Ring Around the Rosy

Ring around the rosy
A pocketful of posies
Ashes, Ashes,
We all fall down!



Kate Greenaway’s 1881 edition of Mother Goose:

A pocket full of posies;
Hush! hush! hush! hush!
We’re all tumbled down.


1790 version:
Round a ring of roses,
A bottle full of posie,
All the little girls in our town,
Ring for little Josie....


Everyone has heard the nursery rhyme Ring Around the Rosy at some point or another, but the true origin of the rhyme is not fully agreed upon. As the story goes, it is an old English nursery rhyme originating in the 16th century.

The Great Plague

Its seemingly innocent nature and subject matter have captivated children and adults alike for years, but its sinister roots as a tale of death and destruction are believed to be related to Great Plague of England from 1664 to 1666. In August and September of 1665, 70,000 people died in London alone. Although some believe this interpretation is based on evidence, the words of which the poem relays didn't exist in earlier versions.

Admittedly, many of the exact details of its history remain up for debate. Some believe that the rings circling around in the lyrics represent a wheel going around the rosy, ostensibly referring to a carriage in which many of the diseased were wheeled around for government encashment. Others think that the “ring” refers to a black ring of death that surrounded citizens, wherever they were located. The rosy, conversely, could symbolize the typical red circles of puss which appeared on victims of the plague. Similarly, the line “pocket full of posy” has been rumored to represent a practice during the plague of carrying aromatic herbs and flowers to try to ward off death and take away the stench of the streets.

Singing Game

Despite its rather dark roots, Ring Around the Rosy is still one of the most beloved nursery rhymes in the United States and beyond. Today, it’s commonly sung at children’s parties and other social gatherings, as a cheeky reminder of the past. Kids will continue to laugh and play while they spin around in a circle and sing the traditional lyrics.