An old nursery rhyme gives us a glimpse into history … and the future.
“Ring around the rosies,
Pockets full of posies,
Ashes, ashes, we all fall down!”
My experience with this well-known nursery rhyme is probably no different from the experiences of children world-wide, for many generations. I played the game as a child, with my children as a young mother and with the nursery rug-rats at church. As had been done for decades, I played and passed the little ditty along to the next generation.
I do remember one particular day of play.
We held hands, dancing in a slow circle around one of our grandmother’s rose bushes. We moved carefully, fully aware of the potential consequences of a stumble or fall; we’d all borne the marks of those treacherous thorns.
“What’s a posy?” I asked as we lay on our backs during a break, looking at the clouds overhead.
“A different kind of flower.”
“Is ashes a kind of flower, too?”
My older sister shook her head. “No, silly; It’s a kind of tree.”
“Why do we have to fall down?” I pestered her.
“To show winter and how everything dies,” she reasoned in her eight-year-old fashion. “It gets cold and icy and all the flowers fall down. But then we get up and play again to show spring, when they all grow back.”
I returned to the game, at least for the moment, basking in the vastness of my sister’s knowledge.
The little nursery rhyme dates back to 14th century England, and transcends time and geography … and its origin.
The Black Plague made its deadly appearance on the British shore in 1348. It spread quickly through the countryside, carried by frightened people, already unknowingly infected, fleeing the illness. The pandemic ravaged the world, taking 75 million lives in its 100 year reign.
Grim statistics to detail the creation of a nursery rhyme, and yet children then did as children have always done – they faced the impossible with whatever courage they had to muster, and made a game of what they feared. They outlined, in this morbid little chant, the details of their existence.
We all sang it as children, we all knew it and played to its haunting words. Little did we know then what we were singing, and in a strange way, retaining from history for future generations.
Perhaps in a small way though, my sister was right. For although the plague hit Europe and Asia several times over the next century, spring always came again and with it, a renewed beginning for survivors. Disaster was always followed by hope. And it always will be.