Monday, April 20, 2015

Little Boy Blue

Little Boy Blue By Mother Goose
Little boy blue, 
Come blow your horn, 
The sheep's in the meadow, 
The cow's in the corn. 
But where is the boy 
Who looks after the sheep? 
He's under a haystack, 
Fast asleep. 

The additional lines in one version which I know now, but didn’t as a child when I first learnt this rhyme are:

Will you wake him? 
No, not I - for if I do, 
he's sure to cry 

"Little Boy Blue" is a popular English-language nursery rhyme, often used in popular culture. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 11318. The earliest printed version of the rhyme is in Tommy Thumb's Little Song Book (c. 1744), but the rhyme may be much older. The Origins of the Little Boy Blue story - A Connection with Tudor History?

The words and story of Little Boy Blue cannot be positively connected to any historical figure in European history but there is, however, a doubtful theory that has been argued that Little Boy Blue was intended to represent Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (1475-1530) who was the son of an Ipswich butcher, dating back to English Tudor history and the reign of King Henry VIII (although the origins and lyrics cannot be connected to any events in his life). Wolsey a prominent English statesman and figure in the Roman Catholic Church during the reign of Henry VIII, was an extremely rich and arrogant self-made man with many enemies at court and was unpopular with the people of England. He was called the "Boy Bachelor" after obtaining his degree from Oxford at the unusually early age of fifteen. The expression "Blowing one's own horn" meaning to brag was certainly practised by Cardinal Wolsey. Between 1514 and 1525 he transformed a medieval manor into the magnificent Hampton Court Palace. It was an ostentatious display of his wealth and his power giving rise to the rhyme uttered by his enemies:

 "Come ye to court? Which Court?
The King's Court or Hampton Court?"

The anti-Wolsey propaganda worked and in 1529 Henry declared all of Wolsey's lands and possessions forfeit and they became the property of the Crown. At this time England was a prosperous nation largely through the wool trade and the export taxes on wool had augmented both Henry's treasury and Wolsey's assets. The words "where's the boy who looks after the sheep?" could refer to Wolsey's concern with profiting himself by lining his own coffers as opposed to that of the country. The cardinal's robes were scarlet but Wolsey's Blazon of Arms included the blue faces of four leopards, as opposed to traditional scarlet cardinal robes - perhaps this was why the title of the rhyme is Little Boy Blue? The Little Boy Blue rhyme may have been a secret message of dissent concerning the greed of the statesman prior to his downfall. Open criticism of the Cardinal would have lead to imprisonment, confiscation of property or even death.

Another theory of the rhyme reputedly relating to Cardinal Wolsey is Wolsey may have acted as a hayward to his father's livestock, but there is no corroborative evidence to support this assertion.

The idea of a sheep eating in a meadow, or a cow eating in the grain field ("corn" means grain in this context) would have been horrifying to the people of the time, since heavy feeding on lush grass can make sheep sick (grass tetany, for example) so the meaning of the rhyme was quite vivid in earlier times.

It may also be alluded to in Shakespeare's King Lear (III, vi) when Edgar, masquerading as Mad Tom, says:

Sleepest or wakest thou, jolly shepheard?
Thy sheepe be in the corne;
And for one blast of thy minikin mouth
Thy sheepe shall take no harme.

Another version from Mother Goose, The Original Volland Edition (1915), edited and arranged by Eulalie Osgood Grover:

Little Boy Blue, come blow your horn,
The sheep's in the meadow, the cow's in the corn.
What! Is this the way you mind your sheep,
Under the haycock fast asleep?

However it is also noted that the rhyme neither has a moral objective nor is used to demonstrate any specific use of the English language.

The most common belief is that the origins are not based on actual events or people in history but is merely a reflection of peaceful country life which would appeal to the imagination of a young child.

And so leads to my recollection of this rhyme.

I was visiting my good friends, Allan and Frances, one day and as leaving down their driveway I drove past some cows which appeared, when I first looked, to be in the same paddock as maize was being grown. Stopping I looked and saw they were in fact well and truly fenced off. Still, I thought of the rhyme and couldn't resist taking a few shots for a blog post!

Another day while travelling north I came across a small fenced off area by the roadside where all the sheep had been shepherded into an area of roadside grass. It looked a little odd to have so many in a small place, as if they had "got into the meadow".

On another occasion when I was visiting my friends again as I hadn't bought my camera I asked Frances to take some photos of the cows grazing in an area where some of the maize had been harvested. She emailed them to me from her phone and we were quite amazed (no pun intended) at how on transmission the cows ended up looking like they had been photo shopped into the pic! If you look inparticular at the legs of the black and white cows they definitely look photoshopped on But I can assure you they were there!

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