What numbskull wrote this?

While sitting for my 14 month old granddaughter, I thought once again about the lyrics of this creepy song:

Rock a bye baby,

in a treetop,

when the wind blows,

the cradle will rock,

when the bough breaks,

the cradle will fall,

and down will come baby,

baby and all.

What a horrible song to sing to little ones at nighttime!

By the way, I’ve never sang those lyrics to any of my babies!

So, here’s the deal.

The song was first published in 1765 in Mother Goose’s Melody. The only change from today was the first line – Mush-abye-baby. (Still weird) The editors noted, it is “a warning to the proud and ambitious, who climb [too] high that [they] generally fall at last.”

Here’s one theory:

James II had a son by his second wife in 1688, displacing the presumptive heir, his daughter, Mary, married to the Protestant William III of Orange. One speculative theory simply holds that the baby in the song is this little guy, and the lyrics were a “death wish,” that the little Catholic prince would die and a Protestant king would ascend to the throne.

Here’s another: A relative of Davy Crocket made up the song when she was babysitting. (IMDB lists her as the writer of “Rock-a-Bye Baby” when it was used in well-over 100 movies.)

Alrighty then.

Another theory is when the pilgrims encountered the Native Americans, they put their babies in cradles up in trees to protect them. (Stupid because surely, the cradle would fall. Maybe it was really the Native Americans who created the song to make fun of the of the newcomers putting their kids in trees.)

Whatever. It’s still a scary song.

My ending goes like this,

“And Mommy/Daddy will catch you, cradle and all.”

At least the song “Ring around the Rosie,” sad because of its original meaning, didn’t have scary words.

Okay, off my soapbox now. And remember to always hold your children tight.

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Published by

Carolyn Dennis-Willingham

Carolyn's first book, "No Hill for a Stepper", was published in 2001. Her second book, "The Last Bordello" was published in August 2016. Her third novel, set in 1928, is currently being edited. When she's not writing, you can find her at the boxing gym, with kids and grandkids, or throwing a ball for her persistent mini Aussie. Carolyn celebrates diversity and is an advocate for social and civil rights.

3 thoughts on “What numbskull wrote this?

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