Friday, 28 January 2011


The tales are gruesome; morbid. We tremble as our lungs expand horribly, inhaling the stench of death; of putrication. The vile stink makes us retch. Yet, the stories are compelling, the reader is helpless, caught up in the powerful strokes of Edgar Allan Poe’s pen. The reader shudders at the thought of being buried alive or of digging up a corpse to gloat in the face of death. In the worlds that Poe creates, the Id is out of control.

Poe’s own life seems to have been plagued with death, love, unrequited love, abuse of alcohol, abuse of opiates and poverty. His stories tell of sex and death; the horrors of the grave, the vomit at the back of your throat, choking your scream.

From Wiki
“The works of American author Edgar Allan Poe (January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849) include many poems, short stories, and one novel. His fiction spans multiple genres, including horror fiction, adventure, science fiction, and detective fiction, a genre he is credited with inventing. These works are generally considered part of the Dark romanticism movement, a literary reaction to Transcendentalism. Poe's writing reflects his literary theories: he disagreed with didacticism and allegory. Meaning in literature, he said in his criticism, should be an undercurrent just beneath the surface; works whose meanings are too obvious cease to be art. Poe pursued originality in his works, and disliked proverbs. He often included elements of popular pseudosciences such as phrenology and physiognomy. His most recurring themes deal with questions of death, including its physical signs, the effects of decomposition, concerns of premature burial, the reanimation of the dead, and mourning. Though known as a masterful practitioner of Gothic fiction, Poe did not invent the genre; he was following a long-standing popular tradition.

Poe's literary career began in 1827 with the release of 50 copies of Tamerlane and Other Poems credited only to "a Bostonian", a collection of early poems which received virtually no attention. In December 1829, Poe released Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems in Baltimore before delving into short stories for the first time with "Metzengerstein" in 1832.His most successful and most widely-read prose during his lifetime was "The Gold-Bug" which earned him a $100 prize, the most he ever received for a single work. One of his most important works, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", was published in 1841 and is today considered the first modern detective story. Poe called it a "tale of ratiocination". Poe became a household name with the publication of "The Raven" in 1845, though it was not a financial success. The publishing industry at the time was a difficult career choice and much of Poe's work was written using themes specifically catered for mass market tastes.”

Biographies are interesting, yes? But let’s talk about the stories! In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” the tale opens with the unnamed narrator arriving at the house of his boyhood friend, Roderick Usher, having received a letter from him in a distant part of the country complaining of an illness and asking for his help. Although Poe wrote this short story before the invention of modern psychological science, Roderick's symptoms can be described according to its terminology. They include hyperesthesia (hypersensitivity to light, sounds, smells, and tastes), hypochondria (an excessive preoccupation or worry about having a serious illness), and acute anxiety. It is revealed that Roderick's twin sister, Madeline, is also ill and falls into cataleptic, death-like trances. Roderick then tells the narrator that he believes the house he lives in to be sentient, and that this sentience arises from the arrangement of the masonry and vegetation surrounding it. Roderick later informs the narrator that his sister has died and insists that she be entombed for two weeks in a vault (family tomb) in the house before being permanently buried. The narrator helps Roderick put the body in the tomb, and he notes that Madeline has rosy cheeks, as some do after death. They inter her, but over the next week both Roderick and the narrator find themselves becoming increasingly agitated for no apparent reason. A storm begins. Roderick comes to the narrator's bedroom, which is situated directly above the vault, and throws open his window to the storm. The narrator notices that the tarn surrounding the house seems to glow in the dark, although there is no lightening.

The narrator reads to Roderick, as cracking and ripping sounds are heard somewhere in the house. When metallic and hollow noises can be heard, Roderick becomes increasingly agitated and hysterical, and eventually exclaims that these sounds are being made by his sister, who was in fact alive when she was entombed and that Roderick knew that she was alive. The bedroom door is then blown open to reveal Madeline standing there. She falls on her brother, and both land on the floor as corpses. The narrator then flees the house, and, as he does so, notices a flash of light causing him to look back upon the House of Usher, in time to watch the house break in two, the fragments sinking into the tarn.

In "Supernatural Horror", H.P.Lovecraft solved a problem in the interpretation of Poe," by arguing that "Roderick Usher, his sister Madeline, and the house all shared one common soul". This notion has probably influenced later writers. I am thinking of Shirley Jackson’s excellent, “The Haunting of Hill House”, and Stephen King’s “The Shining”. In these stories, the houses have a consciousness and actively work against, and manipulate the characters. The explicit psychological dimension of “The Fall of the House of Usher, has prompted many critics to analyse it as a description of the human psyche, comparing, for instance, the House to the unconscious, and its central crack to the personality split which is called dissociative identity disorder. Mental disorder is also evoked through the themes of melancholy, possible incest, and vampirism. An incestuous relationship between Roderick and Madeline is not explicitly stated, but seems implied by the strange attachment between the two.

From Suite 101.

In Berenice, Poe reveals his ability to imply extreme violence without actually depicting it. The short story, begins with the narrator’s complaint that “Misery is manifold.” He wallows in his self-pity, extrapolating that man’s fate is to always find ‘what is’ to be an agony and to find pleasure in what ‘might have been.’ He tells us that his first name is Egoeus and declines to tell us what his family name is. He suggests that his family is a prominent family and describes the richness of their family home, in particular the library.

Egoeus’ private residence is the library and he describes it as the location of his physical birth, the site of his intellectual growth, and the place where he existed as a non-entity before birth. The library is his entire life.
Berenice was Egoeus’s cousin. Their lives were opposite in every way. While Egoeus was dark, gloomy and sickly, Berenice was beautiful and energetic. Egoeus describes Berenice’s life as “the ramble on the hill-side - mine the studies of the cloister.”

Egoeus describes how Berenice’s carefree existence was destroyed by a mysterious malady, which ruined all that was fair and beautiful in his cousin. The disease left her subject to a form of epilepsy, which usually concluded with a deep trance that mimicked death.

During Berenice’s decline, Egoeus experiences a rapid progression in his own illness, which takes the form of obsessive monomania. This monomania allows him to fixate obsessively on one small, often inconsequential, object or detail for vast amounts of time.

Egoeus confesses that when Berenice was beautiful and healthy he did not love her. She, however, had loved him for a long time. When Berenice’s appearance was destroyed by disease Egoeus proposes to her out of a perverse remembrance of what had been.

At this time, Egoeus notices that Berenice’s teeth are the only part of her untouched by her disease, he then develops an obsession with them and imagines being able to hold them in his hand and examine them separately. As a result of his monomania, Egoeus enters into a long trance in which he contemplates Berenice’s teeth.

Egoeus recalls the servants notifying him that Berenice has died during one of her epileptic fits.

The next lucid recollection of Egoeus is when he is sitting in a chair. He recalls a woman’s scream and he has the feeling that he had completed some ‘deed,’ but he can not recall what it was. He notices a small box on the table; the box is like the box which doctors carried.

A servant arrives and tries to explain the situation to Egoeus. He tells Egoeus of wild cries during the night that roused the household. The members of the household discover the violated grave of Berenice and Berenice herself alive but disfigured. He indicates to Egoeus to examine the state of his own clothes, which were covered with blood and dirt. He points out to Egoeus the dirt covered spade leaning against the wall. Suddenly, Egoeus screams and grabs the box. When it falls open, dental tools and 32 teeth fall onto the ground.

"The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" is a horror short story. I am including it here as a tribute to my Dad; he was an avid reader of Poe, and he told this story to my sister and me, one Sunday lunchtime as he was carving the roast beef. He also told us about the headless man he saw in our back yard. Mum was not pleased.

From Poe-stories

A noted doctor of worth, the honourable Dr. P_____, is fascinated by the art of mesmerism or hypnotism with respect to its rumoured ability to suspend a patient in a state of hypnosis to escape death. He describes his old friend, M. Ernest Valdemar, as a person "particularly noticeable for the extreme spareness of his person." It is this man who has graciously volunteered his body and mind for Dr. P_____'s experiment in mesmerism. On the very eve of his death, Valdemar calls upon and receives Dr. P_____. Dr. P______ describes Valdemar's condition as ever-worsening and predicts his death to be forthcoming. Just before Valdemar's death, Dr. P_____ places him under hypnosis and maintains this state of mesmerization for seven months during which he visits Valdemar and asks him questions about his current comfort. Throughout first few days of mesmerization, Valdemar's condition deteriorates physically to the point that death is reached: "There was no longer the faintest sign of vitality in M. Valdemar: and concluding him to be dead, we were consigning him to the charge of the nurses." Horrifically, although his body was dead, Valdemar's mind was still in contact with the world and was also demanding, with increasing insistence, to be allowed to die: "Yes; --no;--I have been sleeping--and now-- now---I am dead." At this point, Dr. P_____ and his colleagues, Dr. F_____ , Dr. D______, and Mr. F______, decide to keep Valdemar in hypnosis for an indeterminate amount of time, believing that since death was halted due to the hypnosis, Valdemar would remain in his that state. For seven months, Dr. P______ continues to pose questions to Valdemar about his condition, questions to which Valdemar answers with increasing intensity and desperation until Dr. P_____ becomes unnerved by Valdemar's final answer: "For God's sake!--quick!--quick!--put me to sleep--or, quick!--waken me!--quick!--I say to you that I am dead!" The doctor rapidly performs his waking motions and witnesses the accelerated decay of a seven-month dead body:

“As I rapidly made the mesmeric passes, amid ejaculations of 'dead! dead!' absolutely bursting from the tongue and not from the lips of the sufferer, his whole frame at once--within the space of a single minute, or less, shrunk--crumbled--absolutely rotted away beneath my hands. Upon the bed, before that whole company, there lay a nearly liquid mass of loathsome--of detestable putrescence.”

"The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" was one of Poe's great hoaxes. During Poe's time mesmerism was in vogue as a subject of medical and psychological investigation in Britain and the United States. Stories of its medical benefits had circulated, backed strongly by the Rev. C. H. Townshend--Facts in Mesmerism ( London, 1840)--and, ironically, by Poe himself--"Mesmeric Revelation," (1844). Poe created disgust and horror by his otherwise successful methods of creative writing. Judging from its immediate success and the seriousness with which it was taken, "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" struck fear into its audience and conveyed the human dread of and morbid fascination with death and the decay that accompanies it. Poe shocked his audience with his gory imagery of fetid decomposition the impact of which was intensified by the public's belief that what they were reading was truth. He created such a fervour of reaction that on March 14, 1846, Poe included in an expense accountability letter the following disclaimer: "P.S. The 'Valdemar Case' was a hoax, of course."

But as I said earlier, Poe is not just famous for his horror stories, and “The Purloined Letter” is an example of a modern mystery story.


Modern mystery writers owe a debt of gratitude to Edgar Allan Poe. Although he is primarily known for his horror stories, Poe also wrote a series of what he called, ‘‘tales of ratiocination,’’ which helped define the conventions used in Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes detective stories, and which helped influence the development of the modern mystery. One of Poe's most popular detective stories is "The Purloined Letter.'' Originally published in The Gift: A Christmas and New Year's Present for 1844, an annual magazine, the story was reproduced in Poe's Tales by Edgar A. Poe the following year. Today, a copy of the story can be found in The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Tales, published in 1998 by Signet Classic. As with the other stories that feature C. Auguste Dupin, Poe's famous detective protagonist, ‘‘The Purloined Letter’’ emphasizes the use of deductive reasoning—a specific type of logic that examines all factors in a case objectively— to solve mysteries that have stumped others.

In this story, as in other Poe detective stories, among the people stumped are the members of the French police force, who attempt to find a stolen letter which is being used for political blackmail. The police launch a series of scientific and precise, but misguided, investigations by using logical methods that are based solely on past experience and established systems of thought. Their investigative methods reflect the types of rational thought prevalent in the mid-nineteenth century. In the end, the police are unsuccessful in finding the letter because the thief has hidden it in the most unexpected place—right under their noses. Dupin figures this out and recovers the letter, turning the political tables on the thief.

So without Poe, there’d be no Miss Marple, no Hercule Poirot. Even “Murder She Wrote owes its existence to Poe…

He died in 1849, when he was found wandering the streets of Baltimore in distress, wearing tattered clothing that was not his own. He died four days later.
His final words were: "Lord, help my poor soul.”

In an aptly mysterious postscript to Poe's life, an anonymous visitor has brought three red roses and a bottle of cognac to Poe's grave at Westminster Church in Baltimore on the anniversary of the writer's birthday every year since the 1940’s. Although, according to what I read on the web, the anonymous visitor has been absent for the past two years.

I wonder what we’d think of Poe if he were alive today? The doctors would probably send him to rehab, give him Prosac -- certainly he’d have some serious therapy. But then, we probably wouldn’t have the stories.

My own story Winnat's Pass was influenced by Poe's "Berenice" I am delighted that it made a dear friend, Gary Walker, recoil in horror. You can find Winnat's Pass in my Fetish Transcendence collection.

This blog post has been put together with sources from the Web, my friend Jan Vander Laenen and my own ideas.

You can find my Fetish Transcendence collection via my Author page at Amazon

Friday, 21 January 2011


Goblin Market, is a poem by Christina Rossetti. It was published 1862. It is a fairy- tale which has been subjected to many interpretations, some seeing it as religious allegory, others see it as sexual symbolism; it tells the story of two sisters, tempted by goblins with forbidden fruit.

To me, the poem is sumptuous with erotic menace and it is the erotica that I shall be concentrating on! (No surprises there then!)

The story narrated in "Goblin Market" is simple. Two sisters, Laura and Lizzie, who apparently live together without parents, are taunted by goblin merchant men to buy luscious and tantalizing fruits. Lizzie is able to resist their coaxing and runs home, but Laura succumbs. She pays for the wares with a lock of her hair and gorges herself on the exotic fare, but her desire increases rather than being satisfied. She returns home and informs Lizzie that she will venture back into the glen and seek the goblins again. But Laura goes back to the glen, she can no longer hear the call of the goblins and grows increasingly apathetic. She refuses to eat and begins to age prematurely. Fearing for her sister's life, Lizzie decides to seek out the goblins in order to purchase an "antidote" for her sister. When the goblins learn that Lizzie does not intend to eat the fruit herself, they throw her money back at her and verbally and physically abuse her, pinching and kicking, tearing at her clothing, and smearing the juice and pulp of their fruit on her. Lizzie refuses to open her mouth and returns home with the penny in her purse. She invites her sister to suck the juices from her body, which Laura does. The juice of the goblin fruit now tastes bitter to Laura, and she writhes in pain from having consumed it. But the antidote works. Laura returns to her former self, and the epilogue of the poem describes Laura and Lizzie as wives and mothers. Laura now tells the story to their children, reminding them that "there is no friend like a sister."

Christina Rossetti sates the reader with glutinous words as she describes the fruit; already, in the first verse she introduces a sexual theme to the poem. “Plump unpecked cherries/ Melons and raspberries…Swart-headed mulberries, Wild free-born cranberries,” The passionate words, the sexual sounds are very intentional and though sex is never explicitly mentioned, it is constantly referred to. Language often suggests a sexual growth, or readiness, “All ripe together”. Goblins proffering plump unpecked cherries tempt the two blushing girls.

Sensible Lizzie warns feckless Laura.

"O! cried Lizzie, Laura, Laura,
You should not peep at goblin men."

It is an ad man's dream, the luscious language drawing on the senses; the reader’s mouth waters, just as Laura’s mouth does. Why resist the lure of the Goblin men? Why shouldn’t Laura drink and eat the delicious fruit that is so full of promise? I’m with Laura here; I would eat the fruit, but then I am never one for doing as I’m told. The lure of sensuous excess is overwhelming.

So the language and structure of "Goblin Market" identify the poem's themes. The argument for the poem's erotic and sexual nature is supported by the language of the poem. The nature of the goblins' fruit is extensively detailed and described as luscious and succulent. Laura consumes the fruit ravenously. "She sucked until her lips were sore", and physically pays for it with a lock of her hair. In one intense moment of orgasmic ecstasy, Laura is left in a state where she "knew not was it night or day".

The next day, Laura is shocked to find no goblins and no succulent fruit in the glen. Surprisingly, only Lizzie can hear the insistent cries of the goblins. Laura falls into depression and sickness when she realizes that she may not experience the fruits again.

Rossetti’s description of Laura’s ‘come down’, is akin to that of an addict, coming off heroin; going cold turkey. Opium was prevalent in Victorian England. Laudanum could be purchased over the counter. Perhaps Rossetti had experience of addiction within her circle. She describes Laura’s fall.

“Her hair grew thin and grey;
She dwindled, as the fair full moon doth turn
To swift decay, and burn
Her fire away.”

Lizzie watches anxiously as her sister's health deteriorates. Finally, she can no longer bear it. At this point she takes a coin and goes to the glen to buy fruit for her sister in hopes of reviving Laura's well being. In a moving passage, Rossetti illustrates brutally, the rude and invasive behaviour of the goblins as they try to force Lizzie to eat the fruit. Lizzie refuses, knowing to absolutely resist the fruit, but she lets the juices of the fruit stick to her body to bring home to her sister. Upon returning, Lizzie invites Laura to "hug me, kiss me, suck my juices" Lizzie feasts upon her sister's skin, taking in all the nectars. The juices spark a moment of both bliss and suffering.

Rossetti's word choice in "Goblin's Market" consistently gives rise to many sexual connotations. She describes sensual parts of the body such as lips, breasts and cheeks. She also utilizes verbs such as to hug, kiss, squeeze and suck. Sexual connotations heighten the relationship between the male goblins and female maidens. Laura's ecstatic experience with the goblin's fruit, is an indescribable orgasmic high. The goblins' over-invasive and aggressive advances towards Lizzie represent sexual invasion; a rape.

Lizzie uttered not a word;
Would not open lip from lip
Lest they should cram a mouthful in;

In addition to these sexual relations, there is an erotic undertone to the close relationship of the two sisters. Rossetti describes their sleeping positions to be intimate and connected. The climatic description of the physical interaction as Laura shares the goblins' juices with Lizzie has erotic implications. These sexual implications would have been apparent to the poem's Victorian English audience. As a female poet, Rossetti makes a bold statement about female sexuality in her time, perhaps addressing issues that would have been silenced; taboo.

The meter and rhyme scheme are irregular in "Goblin Market." The poem generally follows an ABAB rhyme scheme, but not always. In fact, sometimes there's a long gap between a word and its rhyme, and sometimes there are many lines in a row with the same rhyming syllable at the end. This technique will have different effects on different readers. For me, Rossetti strikes a chord of dissonance.

There is no first-person narrator in "Goblin Market". There's no "I." Instead, there's an omniscient third-person narrator such as you'd find in most novels or short stories. A third-person narrator usually gives the impression of being more distant from the story than a first-person narrator; a third-person narrator isn't a character and doesn't participate in the plot. The narrator of "Goblin Market" is no exception. She seems to describe the "Goblin Market" objectively, at least at first. She lists all the goblin fruits for sale and doesn't make any judgments about whether they're good or not. The speaker leaves it to Laura and Lizzie to judge for the reader.

Occasionally, as the poem goes on, the narrator will slip in an adjective that suggests that she's not as objective. For example, she describes Lizzie's advice to Laura as "wise" and Laura's silence as "sullen". And finally, the narrator actually breaks out and addresses Laura directly:

“Ah fool, to choose such part
Of soul-consuming care!”

The narrator calls Laura a "fool" for "choosing" to eat the goblin fruit, even though it meant giving in to "soul-consuming care." The narrator's objectivity seems to go out of the window in these lines, which mark the climax of the poem. It's as though the narrator just couldn't keep her mouth shut during the exciting part – she had to throw in her two pennies worth.

In the assault on Lizzie by the Goblin men, Rossetti uses imagery, similes and descriptive language to carry the theme of temptation, and sex throughout the poem. The assault on Lizzie has sexual allusions; they scream rape. “held her hands and squeezed their fruits.” The violent acts inflicted upon her are not kicks and punches, but far slower and more thought out. “Tore her gown and soiled her stockings/ Twitched her hair out by the roots.”

The Goblin men taunt Lizzie. Their taunts carry heavy sexual overtones as well. First they "Squeezed and caressed her" and then invite her to "Bob at our cherries / Bite at our peaches”, and to "Pluck them and suck them". When she refuses to eat, they "Held her hands and squeezed their fruits / Against her mouth to make her eat".

Finally, when Lizzie returns home, battered and bruised, she invites her sister's embrace: "Come and kiss me. / Never mind my bruises, / Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices / . . . Eat me, drink me, love me; / Laura, make much of me". Rossetti’s erotic use of language supports the reading of the poem as a sexual fantasy.

Although Rossetti was a frequent contributor to her brother Dante's Pre-Raphaelite journal “The Germ,” she achieved immediate and significant recognition as a skilled poet with the 1862 publication of “Goblin Market and Other Poems.” The publication of the volume was hailed as the first literary success of the Pre-Raphaelites, earned critical and popular acclaim, and paved the way for the publication of Rossetti's next volume of poetry, “The Prince's Progress and Other Poems”. (1866). Rossetti went on to publish religious poetry, devotional prose, and nursery rhymes for children. Due to the early success of "Goblin Market," Rossetti rarely fell out of favour with critics or her reading public and remains a focal point of critical study of nineteenth-century literary figures.

Here is Christina Rossetti’s poem.

Goblin Market

MORNING and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
"Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpecked cherries-
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheeked peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries--
All ripe together
In summer weather--
Morns that pass by,
Fair eves that fly;
Come buy, come buy;
Our grapes fresh from the vine,
Pomegranates full and fine,
Dates and sharp bullaces,
Rare pears and greengages,
Damsons and bilberries,
Taste them and try:
Currants and gooseberries,
Bright-fire-like barberries,
Figs to fill your mouth,
Citrons from the South,
Sweet to tongue and sound to eye,
Come buy, come buy."
Evening by evening
Among the brookside rushes,
Laura bowed her head to hear,
Lizzie veiled her blushes:
Crouching close together
In the cooling weather,
With clasping arms and cautioning lips,
With tingling cheeks and finger-tips.
"Lie close," Laura said,
Pricking up her golden head:
We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?"
"Come buy," call the goblins
Hobbling down the glen.
"O! cried Lizzie, Laura, Laura,
You should not peep at goblin men."
Lizzie covered up her eyes
Covered close lest they should look;
Laura reared her glossy head,
And whispered like the restless brook:
"Look, Lizzie, look, Lizzie,
Down the glen tramp little men.
One hauls a basket,
One bears a plate,
One lugs a golden dish
Of many pounds' weight.
How fair the vine must grow
Whose grapes are so luscious;
How warm the wind must blow
Through those fruit bushes."
"No," said Lizzie, "no, no, no;
Their offers should not charm us,
Their evil gifts would harm us."
She thrust a dimpled finger
In each ear, shut eyes and ran:
Curious Laura chose to linger
Wondering at each merchant man.
One had a cat's face,
One whisked a tail,
One tramped at a rat's pace,
One crawled like a snail,
One like a wombat prowled obtuse and furry,
One like a ratel tumbled hurry-scurry.
Lizzie heard a voice like voice of doves
Cooing all together:
They sounded kind and full of loves
In the pleasant weather.
Laura stretched her gleaming neck
Like a rush-imbedded swan,
Like a lily from the beck,
Like a moonlit poplar branch,
Like a vessel at the launch
When its last restraint is gone.
Backwards up the mossy glen
Turned and trooped the goblin men,
With their shrill repeated cry,
"Come buy, come buy."
When they reached where Laura was
They stood stock still upon the moss,
Leering at each other,
Brother with queer brother;
Signalling each other,
Brother with sly brother.
One set his basket down,
One reared his plate;
One began to weave a crown
Of tendrils, leaves, and rough nuts brown
(Men sell not such in any town);
One heaved the golden weight
Of dish and fruit to offer her:
"Come buy, come buy," was still their cry.
Laura stared but did not stir,
Longed but had no money:
The whisk-tailed merchant bade her taste
In tones as smooth as honey,
The cat-faced purr'd,
The rat-paced spoke a word
Of welcome, and the snail-paced even was heard;
One parrot-voiced and jolly
Cried "Pretty Goblin" still for "Pretty Polly";
One whistled like a bird.
But sweet-tooth Laura spoke in haste:
"Good folk, I have no coin;
To take were to purloin:
I have no copper in my purse,
I have no silver either,
And all my gold is on the furze
That shakes in windy weather
Above the rusty heather."
"You have much gold upon your head,"
They answered altogether:
"Buy from us with a golden curl."
She clipped a precious golden lock,
She dropped a tear more rare than pearl,
Then sucked their fruit globes fair or red:
Sweeter than honey from the rock,
Stronger than man-rejoicing wine,
Clearer than water flowed that juice;
She never tasted such before,
How should it cloy with length of use?
She sucked and sucked and sucked the more
Fruits which that unknown orchard bore,
She sucked until her lips were sore;
Then flung the emptied rinds away,
But gathered up one kernel stone,
And knew not was it night or day
As she turned home alone.
Lizzie met her at the gate
Full of wise upbraidings:
"Dear, you should not stay so late,
Twilight is not good for maidens;
Should not loiter in the glen
In the haunts of goblin men.
Do you not remember Jeanie,
How she met them in the moonlight,
Took their gifts both choice and many,
Ate their fruits and wore their flowers
Plucked from bowers
Where summer ripens at all hours?
But ever in the moonlight
She pined and pined away;
Sought them by night and day,
Found them no more, but dwindled and grew grey;
Then fell with the first snow,
While to this day no grass will grow
Where she lies low:
I planted daisies there a year ago
That never blow.
You should not loiter so."
"Nay hush," said Laura.
"Nay hush, my sister:
I ate and ate my fill,
Yet my mouth waters still;
To-morrow night I will
Buy more," and kissed her.
"Have done with sorrow;
I'll bring you plums to-morrow
Fresh on their mother twigs,
Cherries worth getting;
You cannot think what figs
My teeth have met in,
What melons, icy-cold
Piled on a dish of gold
Too huge for me to hold,
What peaches with a velvet nap,
Pellucid grapes without one seed:
Odorous indeed must be the mead
Whereon they grow, and pure the wave they drink,
With lilies at the brink,
And sugar-sweet their sap."
Golden head by golden head,
Like two pigeons in one nest
Folded in each other's wings,
They lay down, in their curtained bed:
Like two blossoms on one stem,
Like two flakes of new-fallen snow,
Like two wands of ivory
Tipped with gold for awful kings.
Moon and stars beamed in at them,
Wind sang to them lullaby,
Lumbering owls forbore to fly,
Not a bat flapped to and fro
Round their rest:
Cheek to cheek and breast to breast
Locked together in one nest.
Early in the morning
When the first cock crowed his warning,
Neat like bees, as sweet and busy,
Laura rose with Lizzie:
Fetched in honey, milked the cows,
Aired and set to rights the house,
Kneaded cakes of whitest wheat,
Cakes for dainty mouths to eat,
Next churned butter, whipped up cream,
Fed their poultry, sat and sewed;
Talked as modest maidens should
Lizzie with an open heart,
Laura in an absent dream,
One content, one sick in part;
One warbling for the mere bright day's delight,
One longing for the night.
At length slow evening came--
They went with pitchers to the reedy brook;
Lizzie most placid in her look,
Laura most like a leaping flame.
They drew the gurgling water from its deep
Lizzie plucked purple and rich golden flags,
Then turning homeward said: "The sunset flushes
Those furthest loftiest crags;
Come, Laura, not another maiden lags,
No wilful squirrel wags,
The beasts and birds are fast asleep."
But Laura loitered still among the rushes
And said the bank was steep.
And said the hour was early still,
The dew not fallen, the wind not chill:
Listening ever, but not catching
The customary cry,
"Come buy, come buy,"
With its iterated jingle
Of sugar-baited words:
Not for all her watching
Once discerning even one goblin
Racing, whisking, tumbling, hobbling;
Let alone the herds
That used to tramp along the glen,
In groups or single,
Of brisk fruit-merchant men.
Till Lizzie urged, "O Laura, come,
I hear the fruit-call, but I dare not look:
You should not loiter longer at this brook:
Come with me home.
The stars rise, the moon bends her arc,
Each glow-worm winks her spark,
Let us get home before the night grows dark;
For clouds may gather even
Though this is summer weather,
Put out the lights and drench us through;
Then if we lost our way what should we do?"
Laura turned cold as stone
To find her sister heard that cry alone,
That goblin cry,
"Come buy our fruits, come buy."
Must she then buy no more such dainty fruit?
Must she no more such succous pasture find,
Gone deaf and blind?
Her tree of life drooped from the root:
She said not one word in her heart's sore ache;
But peering thro' the dimness, naught discerning,
Trudged home, her pitcher dripping all the way;
So crept to bed, and lay
Silent 'til Lizzie slept;
Then sat up in a passionate yearning,
And gnashed her teeth for balked desire, and wept
As if her heart would break.
Day after day, night after night,
Laura kept watch in vain,
In sullen silence of exceeding pain.
She never caught again the goblin cry:
"Come buy, come buy,"
She never spied the goblin men
Hawking their fruits along the glen:
But when the noon waxed bright
Her hair grew thin and grey;
She dwindled, as the fair full moon doth turn
To swift decay, and burn
Her fire away.
One day remembering her kernel-stone
She set it by a wall that faced the south;
Dewed it with tears, hoped for a root,
Watched for a waxing shoot,
But there came none;
It never saw the sun,
It never felt the trickling moisture run:
While with sunk eyes and faded mouth
She dreamed of melons, as a traveller sees
False waves in desert drouth
With shade of leaf-crowned trees,
And burns the thirstier in the sandful breeze.
She no more swept the house,
Tended the fowls or cows,
Fetched honey, kneaded cakes of wheat,
Brought water from the brook:
But sat down listless in the chimney-nook
And would not eat.
Tender Lizzie could not bear
To watch her sister's cankerous care,
Yet not to share.
She night and morning
Caught the goblins' cry:
"Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy."
Beside the brook, along the glen
She heard the tramp of goblin men,
The voice and stir
Poor Laura could not hear;
Longed to buy fruit to comfort her,
But feared to pay too dear,
She thought of Jeanie in her grave,
Who should have been a bride;
But who for joys brides hope to have
Fell sick and died
In her gay prime,
In earliest winter-time,
With the first glazing rime,
With the first snow-fall of crisp winter-time.
Till Laura, dwindling,
Seemed knocking at Death's door:
Then Lizzie weighed no more
Better and worse,
But put a silver penny in her purse,
Kissed Laura, crossed the heath with clumps of furze
At twilight, halted by the brook,
And for the first time in her life
Began to listen and look.
Laughed every goblin
When they spied her peeping:
Came towards her hobbling,
Flying, running, leaping,
Puffing and blowing,
Chuckling, clapping, crowing,
Clucking and gobbling,
Mopping and mowing,
Full of airs and graces,
Pulling wry faces,
Demure grimaces,
Cat-like and rat-like,
Ratel and wombat-like,
Snail-paced in a hurry,
Parrot-voiced and whistler,
Helter-skelter, hurry-skurry,
Chattering like magpies,
Fluttering like pigeons,
Gliding like fishes, --
Hugged her and kissed her;
Squeezed and caressed her;
Stretched up their dishes,
Panniers and plates:
"Look at our apples
Russet and dun,
Bob at our cherries
Bite at our peaches,
Citrons and dates,
Grapes for the asking,
Pears red with basking
Out in the sun,
Plums on their twigs;
Pluck them and suck them,
Pomegranates, figs."
"Good folk," said Lizzie,
Mindful of Jeanie,
"Give me much and many"; --
Held out her apron,
Tossed them her penny.
"Nay, take a seat with us,
Honour and eat with us,"
They answered grinning;
"Our feast is but beginning.
Night yet is early,
Warm and dew-pearly,
Wakeful and starry:
Such fruits as these
No man can carry;
Half their bloom would fly,
Half their dew would dry,
Half their flavour would pass by.
Sit down and feast with us,
Be welcome guest with us,
Cheer you and rest with us."
"Thank you," said Lizzie; "but one waits
At home alone for me:
So, without further parleying,
If you will not sell me any
Of your fruits though much and many,
Give me back my silver penny
I tossed you for a fee."
They began to scratch their pates,
No longer wagging, purring,
But visibly demurring,
Grunting and snarling.
One called her proud,
Cross-grained, uncivil;
Their tones waxed loud,
Their looks were evil.
Lashing their tails
They trod and hustled her,
Elbowed and jostled her,
Clawed with their nails,
Barking, mewing, hissing, mocking,
Tore her gown and soiled her stocking,
Twitched her hair out by the roots,
Stamped upon her tender feet,
Held her hands and squeezed their fruits
Against her mouth to make her eat.
White and golden Lizzie stood,
Like a lily in a flood,
Like a rock of blue-veined stone
Lashed by tides obstreperously, --
Like a beacon left alone
In a hoary roaring sea,
Sending up a golden fire, --
Like a fruit-crowned orange-tree
White with blossoms honey-sweet
Sore beset by wasp and bee, --
Like a royal virgin town
Topped with gilded dome and spire
Close beleaguered by a fleet
Mad to tear her standard down.
One may lead a horse to water,
Twenty cannot make him drink.
Though the goblins cuffed and caught her,
Coaxed and fought her,
Bullied and besought her,
Scratched her, pinched her black as ink,
Kicked and knocked her,
Mauled and mocked her,
Lizzie uttered not a word;
Would not open lip from lip
Lest they should cram a mouthful in;
But laughed in heart to feel the drip
Of juice that syruped all her face,
And lodged in dimples of her chin,
And streaked her neck which quaked like curd.
At last the evil people,
Worn out by her resistance,
Flung back her penny, kicked their fruit
Along whichever road they took,
Not leaving root or stone or shoot.
Some writhed into the ground,
Some dived into the brook
With ring and ripple.
Some scudded on the gale without a sound,
Some vanished in the distance.
In a smart, ache, tingle,
Lizzie went her way;
Knew not was it night or day;
Sprang up the bank, tore through the furze,
Threaded copse and dingle,
And heard her penny jingle
Bouncing in her purse, --
Its bounce was music to her ear.
She ran and ran
As if she feared some goblin man
Dogged her with gibe or curse
Or something worse:
But not one goblin skurried after,
Nor was she pricked by fear;
The kind heart made her windy-paced
That urged her home quite out of breath with haste
And inward laughter.
She cried "Laura," up the garden,
"Did you miss me ?
Come and kiss me.
Never mind my bruises,
Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeezed from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew.
Eat me, drink me, love me;
Laura, make much of me:
For your sake I have braved the glen
And had to do with goblin merchant men."
Laura started from her chair,
Flung her arms up in the air,
Clutched her hair:
"Lizzie, Lizzie, have you tasted
For my sake the fruit forbidden?
Must your light like mine be hidden,
Your young life like mine be wasted,
Undone in mine undoing,
And ruined in my ruin;
Thirsty, cankered, goblin-ridden?"
She clung about her sister,
Kissed and kissed and kissed her:
Tears once again
Refreshed her shrunken eyes,
Dropping like rain
After long sultry drouth;
Shaking with aguish fear, and pain,
She kissed and kissed her with a hungry mouth.
Her lips began to scorch,
That juice was wormwood to her tongue,
She loathed the feast:
Writhing as one possessed she leaped and sung,
Rent all her robe, and wrung
Her hands in lamentable haste,
And beat her breast.
Her locks streamed like the torch
Borne by a racer at full speed,
Or like the mane of horses in their flight,
Or like an eagle when she stems the light
Straight toward the sun,
Or like a caged thing freed,
Or like a flying flag when armies run.
Swift fire spread through her veins, knocked at her heart,
Met the fire smouldering there
And overbore its lesser flame,
She gorged on bitterness without a name:
Ah! fool, to choose such part
Of soul-consuming care!
Sense failed in the mortal strife:
Like the watch-tower of a town
Which an earthquake shatters down,
Like a lightning-stricken mast,
Like a wind-uprooted tree
Spun about,
Like a foam-topped water-spout
Cast down headlong in the sea,
She fell at last;
Pleasure past and anguish past,
Is it death or is it life ?
Life out of death.
That night long Lizzie watched by her,
Counted her pulse's flagging stir,
Felt for her breath,
Held water to her lips, and cooled her face
With tears and fanning leaves:
But when the first birds chirped about their eaves,
And early reapers plodded to the place
Of golden sheaves,
And dew-wet grass
Bowed in the morning winds so brisk to pass,
And new buds with new day
Opened of cup-like lilies on the stream,
Laura awoke as from a dream,
Laughed in the innocent old way,
Hugged Lizzie but not twice or thrice;
Her gleaming locks showed not one thread of grey,
Her breath was sweet as May,
And light danced in her eyes.
Days, weeks, months, years
Afterwards, when both were wives
With children of their own;
Their mother-hearts beset with fears,
Their lives bound up in tender lives;
Laura would call the little ones
And tell them of her early prime,
Those pleasant days long gone
Of not-returning time:
Would talk about the haunted glen,
The wicked, quaint fruit-merchant men,
Their fruits like honey to the throat,
But poison in the blood;
(Men sell not such in any town;)
Would tell them how her sister stood
In deadly peril to do her good,
And win the fiery antidote:
Then joining hands to little hands
Would bid them cling together,
"For there is no friend like a sister,
In calm or stormy weather,
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands."

Friday, 14 January 2011


I laughed out loud. I laughed convulsively. I didn’t pee myself with laughter, but I came very close. Chris Morris’ jihadi comedy, “Four Lions“, is an absolute delight. If you're offended by the very concept of a terrorist cell as a laugh riot, you probably shouldn't see the film. Or maybe you should. The very existence of “Four Lions” is an act of audacity; the fact that it's also smart, humane, and frequently hilarious is nothing short of a miracle.

The protagonists operate under the fierce conviction that scheming to blow stuff up makes them radical, world-changing martyrs. Never mind that their grasp of reality is so pathetic that they believe the Jews invented sparkplugs to control global traffic, or that the best way to construct a top-secret bomb stash is to order the ingredients on Amazon.

Chris Morris is still the most incendiary figure working in the British entertainment industry. Even if you have not read reports of “Four Lions”’ premiere at Sundance and you have experienced his stuff before, it should come as no surprise that he is reliably fearless and brilliant. In this satirical black comedy about Islamic suicide bombers, he crucially targets his sacrilegious energy not at all at the tenets of Islam – what could be more tiresome or irrelevant? – but simply at the activity of suicide bombing itself.

It is not treated with the cowed, shocked respect habitually to be found in drama or on the news, but rather cheerful scorn. This is a film in which suicide bombers are not martyr-warriors, or powerful enemies to be hated and feared, but ridiculous bunglers. In the tradition of Chaplin sending up Hitler, Chris Morris depicts a movement of violent idiots. In this film, everyone is stupid. The suicide bombers are stupid; the police are stupid; even the clever suicide bomber with the gentle, loving marriage and adoring son is stupid: in fact he is the most culpably stupid of all. And this never looks like a cop-out or a moral equivalence of stupidity, but the comic enactment of a generally degraded and absurd culture of paranoid futility.

The character of Omar (Riz Ahmed), vaguely the most intelligent of the gang, wants to train as a "proper soldier" at a mujahideen camp in Pakistan. (In a nice sardonic touch, the antimaterialist Omar works by day as a mall security guard.) The belligerent Barry, a Caucasian convert to the cause, proposes bombing a mosque "to radicalise the moderates." Faisal (Adeel Akhtar) knows a thing or two about munitions, but rather than blow himself up, he plans to create an army of bomb-carrying crows. And the oafish Waj (Kayvan Novak) has no plan at all beyond railing at the infidels who prefer McDonald's to the halal bucket at Chicken Cottage.

The filmmaking style is an extended series of sketches rather than a tightly plotted story. Omar and Waj spend time at a Pakistani training camp, but are kicked out for general incompetence. Barry, while participating "undercover" in a panel on religious tolerance, recruits a young hothead, Hassan (Arsher Ali), who seems to have mistaken being a jihadi for being a gangster rapper.

After the catastrophic visit to Pakistan, where they succeed in disgracing themselves utterly, (at the end of the film we learn that they have blown up their hero, Osama bin Laden) Omar and Waj return gloomily to find that loose-cannon Barry has presumed to make recruitments without clearing it with anyone else. So to reassert his authority, Omar initiates his own plan: they will blow themselves up at the London Marathon, where their silly novelty costumes will conceal the explosives; no one will search them and it will all happen on live television.

At what point does violence for a cause (which, deluded though they may be, these guys believe they're fighting for) lose its meaning and become senseless murder? For those of us watching in the audience, of course, the answer is simple: terrorism is always senseless murder. But as we watch these guys engage in elaborate mental gymnastics to justify their deeds, we get a glimpse of ideological obfuscation in action. "Listen to your heart," Omar counsels Waj, trying to psych him up for a dangerous mission. "My heart says this is wrong," responds Waj, to which Omar, thinking fast, replies, "What does your head say?"

Far from the cynical, nihilist satire its premise might suggest, “Four Lions” reads, in the end, as a passionate and bleakly funny brief against extremism in all its forms. One of “Four Lions”' subplots involves Omar's deeply religious, law-abiding brother, who visits Omar's house to scold him for giving his wife too much freedom. When Omar laughs it off, the brother responds sternly, "Joking is a sign of weakness." That axiom could be the reverse motto of this brave, brutal, often bloody comedy: It is in its willingness to laugh at the unthinkable that the film finds its strength.

The most uncomfortable aspect of “Four Lions” is the excruciatingly happy, healthy, fulfilled home life of Omar. Just as we have become accustomed to the idea that only idiots or creeps want to kill people by blowing themselves up, Morris coolly presents us with a self-evidently nice, commonsensical guy who loves his family, and whose irritation with religious pedantry is supremely sympathetic. And yet Omar – the cool one, the smart one – wants what all the idiots want. He is essentially no different from them and his wife never questions it, or tries to talk him out of it; there is no serious discussion of justification, of the west's mendacious war in Iraq, and there is no earnest debate of the elaborately written kind that would take up a good 10 minutes of a more serious type of film.

Four Lions takes the sick logic of terrorism to its logical parodic extreme. The film wisely doesn't try to explore the roots of religious fanaticism and how it can manifest as murder: Instead, it simply accepts the world as it is and focuses on the ridiculous. Morris’ film is brutally unimpressed with the moral idiocy of suicide bombing and suggests that the only sane response is derisive laughter.

Friday, 7 January 2011


I think that virtually all nursery rhymes and fairy tales originated before the era of Disney and the modern urge to sanitize the world. People used to have a more direct connection to the world, including unpleasant things like death and disease, and didn't feel it necessary to shield children from them.

However, during the era of Victorian prudery, many rhymes were re-written to make them safe for children. This often made them totally nonsensical.

There's something quite fascinating about nursery rhymes. On the surface, they're simple little songs with simple little words sung by children still basking in the light of their simple little lives. Yet scratch the surface of any nursery rhyme and you'll reveal a much more complex 'adult' history. These rhymes were often born out of a desire to instruct or teach, or to pass on a moral lesson. The rhyme “London Bridge is falling down,” is laced with the whispered notion that children were buried alive in the foundations of the bridge.

In the days when controlling naughty children was achieved through frightening them, I think that such a threat would probably have been effective.

But the superstition was based around the idea that 'primitive' cultures believed that a bridge would collapse unless the body of a human sacrifice were buried in its foundations.

Yes, the meanings and histories behind many nursery rhymes are sinister. The ancestor of Ring a Ring o Roses is the Black Death. There are many variations of the rhyme -- this is the version we used to sing.

Ring a-ring o' roses,
A pocketful of posies.
a-tishoo!, a-tishoo!.
We all fall down.

From Wiki.

“Many have associated the poem with the Great Plague of London in 1665, or with earlier outbreaks of the Black Death in England. Interpreters of the rhyme before World War II make no mention of this; by 1951, however, it seems to have become well established as an explanation for the form of the rhyme that had become standard in the United Kingdom. Peter and Iona Opie remark: "The invariable sneezing and falling down in modern English versions have given would-be origin finders the opportunity to say that the rhyme dates back to the Great Plague. A rosy rash, they allege, was a symptom of the plague, posies of herbs were carried as protection and to ward off the smell of the disease. Sneezing or coughing was a final fatal symptom, and 'all fall down' was exactly what happened. "The line Ashes, Ashes in alternative versions of the rhyme is claimed to refer variously to cremation of the bodies, the burning of victims' houses, or blackening of their skin, and the theory has been adapted to be applied to other versions of the rhyme. In its various forms, the interpretation has entered into popular culture and has been used elsewhere to make oblique reference to the plague.”

It does seem macabré, that generations of children sing this song, when you think that plague victims were dumped en masse in to open graves. Blackheath, a huge open space in South East London, was actually the site of what was once a mass grave during one particular plague epidemic - hence the name Blackheath, and perhaps also accounts for all those blood-chilling stories of people being buried alive, hands scraping hopelessly at the dirt, leaving behind their suffering ghosts to groan in perpetuity.

And then there’s Wee Willie Winkie. Who is this strange person running around the town in his night gown?

Wee Willie Winkie runs through the town,
Upstairs and downstairs in his nightgown,
Tapping at the window and crying through the lock,
Are all the children in their beds, it's past eight o'clock?

“The origins of the words and lyrics to this nursery rhyme were to allow children to associate every day tasks with their own lives. Before the days of radio, TV and indeed the Internet and also due to levels of illiteracy within the population great reliance was made on the Town Crier who was paid to walk the streets crying out the latest news and information. 'Wee willie winkie' was a child's version of the Town Crier! The author of the nursery rhyme was William Miller (1810 - 1872)”

Perhaps Wee Willie Winkie is a counterpart to the Sandman.

The Sandman is a mythical character in Western folklore who brings good dreams by sprinkling magical sand onto the eyes of children while they sleep.

Traditionally he is a character in many children's stories, invoked to help (or lull) children to sleep. He is said to sprinkle sand or dust on or into the eyes of the child at night to bring on dreams and sleep. The grit or 'sleep' (rheum) in one's eyes upon waking is supposed to be the result of the Sandman's work the previous evening.

E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776–1822) wrote an inverse depiction of the lovable character in a story called Der Sandmann, which showed how sinister such a character could be made. According to the protagonist's nurse, he threw sand in the eyes of children who wouldn't sleep, with the result of those eyes falling out and being collected by the Sandman, who then takes the eyes to his iron nest on the moon, and uses them to feed his children. The protagonist of the story grows to associate this nightmarish creature with the genuinely sinister figure of his father's associate Coppelius. The complete, gruesome story is here;

Oranges and lemons
Say the bells of St Clements
You owe me five farthings
Say the bells of St Martins
When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey
When I grow rich
Say the bells of Shoreditch
When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney
I'm sure I don't know
Says the great bell at Bow
Here comes a candle to light you to bed
Here comes a chopper to chop off your head

Chip chop chip chop the last man's head!

From Famous quotes.

“The words and lyrics have been much loved by generations of British children. The place names relate to some of the many churches of London and the tune that accompanies the lyrics emulates the sound of the ringing of the specific church bells. The words of the nursery rhyme are chanted by children as they play the game of 'Oranges and lemons' the end of which culminates in a child being caught between the joined arms of two others, emulating the act of chopping off their head. The reason for the last three lines of lyrics are easily explained. The 'Great Bells of Bow' were used to time the executions at Newgate prison, which for many years were done by means of beheading. The unfortunate victim would await execution on 'Death Row' and was informed by the warder, the night before the execution ' here comes the candle to light you to bed' of their imminent fate and to make their peace with God. The executions commenced when the bells started chiming at nine o'clock in the morning. When the bells stopped chiming then the executions would be finished until the following day.”

We played this game of Oranges and Lemons at kids’ parties. Yes, it was fun but the anticipation of being the kid caught and the following, symbolic execution, was horrible.

There are a few explanations for the nursery rhyme, “Mary mary quite contrary.”

From Wiki.

“It is a religious allegory of Catholicism, with bells representing the sanctus bells, the cockleshells the badges of the pilgrims to the shrine of Saint James in Spain (Santiago de Compostela) and pretty maids are nuns, but even within this strand of thought there are differences of opinion as to whether it is lament for the reinstatement of Catholicism or for its persecution.

Another theory sees the rhyme as connected to Mary, Queen of Scots, with "how does your garden grow" referring to her reign over her realm, "silver bells" referring to (Catholic) cathedral bells, "cockle shells" insinuating that her husband was not faithful to her, and "pretty maids all in a row" referring to her ladies-in-waiting - "The four Maries".

These explanations vary; it is identified with Mary I of England for roughly the same reasons as with her Scottish counterpart.

The "How does your garden grow?" may make mocking reference to her womb and the fact that she gave birth to no heirs, or to the common idea that England had become a Catholic vassal or "branch" of Spain and the Habsburgs, or may even be a punning reference to her chief minister, Stephen Gardiner ("gardener").

"Quite contrary" could be a reference to her unsuccessful attempt to reverse ecclesiastical changes effected by her father Henry VIII and her brother Edward VI.

The "pretty maids all in a row" could be a reference to miscarriages as with the other Mary or her execution of Lady Jane Grey after coming to the throne.

"Rows and rows" may refer to her infamous burnings and executions of Protestants.

Alternatively, capitalizing on the Queen's portrayal by Whig historians as "Bloody Mary", the "silver bells and cockle shells" referred to in the nursery rhyme could be colloquialisms for instruments of torture.

I can vaguely recall my dad reciting "Who Killed Cock Robin" I remember feeling sad. It’s a bizarre story to have as a nursery rhyme -- the tale of a murder, and subsequent trial.

"Who Killed Cock Robin" is an English nursery rhyme, which has been much used as a

murder archetype in world culture.

Who killed Cock Robin?
I, said the Sparrow,
with my bow and arrow,
I killed Cock Robin.
Who saw him die?
I, said the Fly,
with my little eye,
I saw him die.
Who caught his blood?
I, said the Fish,
with my little dish,
I caught his blood.
Who'll make the shroud?
I, said the Beetle,
with my thread and needle,
I'll make the shroud.
Who'll dig his grave?
I, said the Owl,
with my pick and shovel,
I'll dig his grave.
Who'll be the parson?
I, said the Rook,
with my little book,
I'll be the parson.
Who'll be the clerk?
I, said the Lark,
if it's not in the dark,
I'll be the clerk.
Who'll carry the link?
I, said the Linnet,
I'll fetch it in a minute,
I'll carry the link.
Who'll be chief mourner?
I, said the Dove,
I mourn for my love,
I'll be chief mourner.
Who'll carry the coffin?
I, said the Kite,
if it's not through the night,
I'll carry the coffin.
Who'll bear the pall?
We, said the Wren,
both the cock and the hen,
We'll bear the pall.
Who'll sing a psalm?
I, said the Thrush,
as she sat on a bush,
I'll sing a psalm.
Who'll toll the bell?
I said the bull,
because I can pull,
I'll toll the bell.
All the birds of the air
fell a-sighing and a-sobbing,
when they heard the bell toll
for poor Cock Robin.

Although the song is not recorded until the eighteenth century there is some evidence that it might be much older. The death of a robin by an arrow is depicted in a stained glass window at Buckland Rectory, Gloucestershire and the rhyme is similar to a story, Phyllyp Sparowe, written by John Skelton about 1508.

The use of the rhyme 'owl' with 'shovel', could suggest that it was originally used in older middle English pronunciation. Versions of the story appear to exist in other countries, including Germany.

A number of theories have been advanced to explain the meaning of the rhyme.
That the rhyme records a mythological event, such as the death of the god Balder from norse mythology, or the ritual sacrifice of a king figure, as proposed by early folklorists as in the 'Cutty Wren' theory of a 'pagan survival'.

That it is a parody of the death of William Rufus, who was killed by an arrow in the new forest in 1100.

That the rhyme is connected with the fall of the government of Robert Walpole in
1742, since Robin is a diminutive form of Robert and the first printing is close to the time of the events mentioned.

More recently internet speculation has associated the rhyme with Robin Hood, largely, it seems on the basis of a shared name.

All of these theories are based on perceived similarities in the text to legendary or historical events, or on the similarities of names. Peter Opie pointed out that an existing rhyme could have been adapted to fit the circumstances of political events in the eighteenth century. As with many such theories there is no textual or supportive evidence that the rhyme is connected to the selected events, or that the phrase 'Cock Robin' was used before the rhyme was first published.

And there’s so many, many more. Little Jack Horner, There was a Crooked Man, Georgie Porgy, Jack and Jill, the list goes on and on…

I’m disappointed that I couldn’t really find any erotic origins for nursery rhymes.

Suite 101 gives the lyrics for the Nursery Rhyme Goosey goosey gander. I had some hopes for this one. Surely here there was steamy sex.

Goosey goosey gander,
Whither shall I wander?
Upstairs and downstairs
And in my lady's chamber.
There I met an old man
Who wouldn't say his prayers,
So I took him by his left leg
And threw him down the stairs.

But not so. The traditional interpretation of this rhyme regards it as an account of the religious upheaval in England during the sixteenth century.

The lady’s chamber is the private room of a high born lady. The lady in this rhyme, apparently had a ‘Priest Hole’ in her room to hide a Catholic Priest. A Priest Hole is a very small hidden room. Priest holes were necessary at this time because those found harbouring a priest were executed along with the priest.

The old man who wouldn’t say his prayers refers to the fact that Catholic Priests said their prayers in Latin instead of the using correct language for prayers which according to Protestants was in English. Those who did not ‘convert’ to the Protestant way were executed.

Of course, I could pick a Nursery Rhyme and give it an erotic reading, you can give anything an erotic reading. How about “Little Miss Muffet”? But it doesn’t really prove anything, other than that I’ve got a dirty mind.