Nursery rhymes often reflect the condition of society and its people. Mostly, popular rhymes show a picture of those contemporary times when they originated.
The real stories behind the rhymes are not as simple as we think. The darker meanings come out through various analyses and references.
In this context, Goosey Goosey Gander is a famous rhyme related to religious persecution. It is connected to how Catholic priests were forbidden from chanting Latin-based prayers and punished if caught doing so.
Surprised, are you? Let’s learn more about the history behind the rhyme.
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
Goose-a goose-a gander,
Where shall I wander?
Up stairs and down stairs,
In my lady's chamber;
There you'll find a cup of sack
And a race of ginger
The stairs went crack,
He nearly broke his back.
And all the little ducks went,
'Quack, quack, quack.
Want to add this wonderful song to your little one’s collection of best rhymes? Then, find the complete printable lyrics here.
The modern version is used nowadays. We are adding a YouTube link for the same. Watch and sing along with your child.
Origin and History
One of the earliest versions of the rhyme was in Gammer Gurton's Garland or The Nursery Parnassus published in London in 1784. It can also refer to the march of Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers in the “goose-step”, during the mid-17th century, after the Civil War.
In 16th century England, Catholic priests were not very popular as they were considered corrupt. There was even a reward for any protestant who could find and execute one. Here the word ‘goose’ has been used as slang for women, which is inappropriate for small kids to know and understand.
Many people believe that the rhyme refers to priest holes, where Catholic priests used to hide during the persecutions under King Henry VIII, his descendent Edward, Queen Elizabeth and later under Oliver Cromwell.
If they were discovered, they were forcibly taken from the house ('thrown down the stairs') and treated badly. Amateur historian Chris Roberts suggests that it might be linked to the campaign against the Catholic Church during the reign of Henry VIII.
Here, ‘left leg’ was slang for Catholics during the reign of Edward VI, and ‘can't say his prayers; referred to the banning of Latin prayers.
One of the earliest versions of the rhyme was in Gammer Gurton's Garland or The Nursery Parnassus published in London in 1784. It originated from religious persecution during the rule of King Henry VIII, his descendent Edward, Queen Elizabeth, and later Oliver Cromwell.
Gander means a make goose. Sometimes, it is used to denote a glance, a look, or even a fool as slang.
The poem is not inappropriate on the face of it. However, the inner meaning might be inappropriate or difficult for small children to understand. But, you can always use it to teach alliteration (repetitive syllables) or for nice rhyming words.
Yes, it depicts the religious persecution of ancient times when Catholic priests were forbidden from chanting Latin-based prayers and were punished if they did. If discovered from their hiding, they were taken away and poorly treated. It also has another indecorous reference where 'goose' is used as slang for women.