Friday, August 5, 2011

Ladybird, Ladybird, Fly Away Home

The other day I was loading some more firewood into out wood burner to keep the place warm. I put in about three pieces at a time and as I was shutting the door I realised that the last piece had a ladybird (ladybug) sitting on it, but I had already shut the door.

Straight away a nursery rhyme from my childhood came to mind

Ladybird ladybird fly away home,
Your house is on fire and your children are gone,
All except one and that's little Ann,
For she crept under the frying pan.
Another version is: 
Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home,
Your house is on fire, your children all gone,
Except little Nan, who sits in a pan,
Weaving gold laces as fast as she can. 

I quickly opened the fire door but alas the lady bird had gone. Whether she (I just presume it was a she - I mean it is a 'lady' bird) had escaped up the chimney or whether she had hidden in the log, or worse still, shriveled up in the heat, I will never know but the rhyme still lingered in the hope that she had flown home.

So I had to find out what this rhyme was all about.

In Medieval England farmers would set torches to the old hop (used in flavoring beer) vines after the harvest in order to clear the fields for the next planting. Farmers knew of the Ladybird's value in reducing the level of pests in their crops and it was traditional for them to cry out the rhyme before they burnt their fields following harvests (this reduced the level of insects and pests) in deference to the helpful ladybird.
It was sung as a warning to the ladybirds that were still crawling on the vines in search of aphids.

The ladybirds' children (larvae) could get away from the flames, but the pupae, referred to as "Nan" in some versions, were fastened to the plants and thus could not escape.
Pupae are the larvae when they have formed a cocoon and are changing into adults.
"Nan" was originally an affectionate form of the name "Ann"
(but it is now generally used as a short form of "Nancy").

"Ladybird, ladybird" would also be chanted by a small child when this pretty, little, inoffensive insect landed on their person.  They would chant the charm to provoke a response from the insect:
Traditionally the insect is set on a finger before being addressed. . . .
If the ladybird did not fly away of its own accord the child would gently blow it away chanting "Ladybird Ladybird fly away home".
When the warning has been recited (and the ladybird blown upon once), it nearly always happens that the seemingly earthbound little beetle produces wings and flies away."

This insect is found every summer in the gardens - the most common colour is red with black spots, less common are the Steely blue and also the yellow variety

Steely blue ladybird
Eleven spotted ladybird

In America ladybirds are referred to as 'ladybugs'.

Ladybird History Connection -
Gunpowder Plot Conspirators?

The English word ladybird is a derivative of the Catholic term " Our Lady".
The tradition of calling this rhyme was believed to have been used as a seemingly innocent warning cry to Catholic (recusants) who refused to attend Protestant services as required by the Act of Uniformity (1559 & 1662).
This law forbade priests to say Mass and forbade communicants to attend it.
Consequently Mass was held secretly in the open fields. Laymen were subject to jail and heavy fines and priests to execution.
Many priests were executed by the terrible death of being burnt alive at the stake or, even worse, being hung, drawn and quartered.
The most famous English recusants were Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot Conspirators.

The American Version of the Lyrics

It is possible that the word Ladybird was exchanged for Ladybug, in the American version of the nursery rhyme, due the word association with Firebug meaning an arsonist or pyromaniac.
The first publication date was 1865 and the word ladybird was used as opposed to ladybug.
There has been some speculation that this Nursery Rhyme originates from the time of the Great Fire of London in 1666.

No comments :

Post a Comment