Little Miss Muffet

"Little Miss Muffet" is a nursery rhyme, one of the most commonly printed in the mid-twentieth century.[1] It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 20605.

"Little Miss Muffet"
William Wallace Denslow's illustrations for "Little Miss Muffet", from a 1901 edition of Mother Goose
Nursery rhyme
Published1805
Songwriter(s)Unknown

Lyrics

Little Miss Muffet
Sat on a tuffet,
Eating her curds and whey;
Along came a spider[2]
Who sat down beside her
And frightened Miss Muffet away.[1]

The "her" in line 3 is "of" in older versions.

Origins and meaning

The rhyme first appeared in print in 1805, in a book titled Songs for the Nursery. Like many such rhymes, its origins are unclear. Some claim it was written by Dr Thomas Muffet (d.1604), an English physician and entomologist, regarding his stepdaughter Patience; others claim it refers to Mary, Queen of Scots (1543–87), who was said to have been frightened by religious reformer John Knox (1510–72).[3] The first explanation is speculative, and the latter is doubted by most literary scholars, who note that stories linking folk tales or songs to political events are often urban legends.[1] Several novels and films, including the Alex Cross novel Along Came a Spider (1993) and its eponymous 2001 film adaptation, take their titles from the poem's crucial line.

Alternative lyrics

An alternative set of lyrics has been taught in some countries where whey is not a common foodstuff, replacing it with "pie".[4] In the nineteenth century, the rhyme existed in many alternative versions, including: "Little Mary Ester, Sat upon a tester" (1812) and "Little Miss Mopsey, Sat in the shopsey" (1842). These rhymes may be parodies of whichever is the original.[1]

In 1868, Walt Whitman's supposed partner, Peter Doyle, allegedly wrote a version of "Little Miss Muffet" that some experts believe could be a metaphorical representation of their relationship.

Little Miss Man
Had a great plan
to get her man to love.
Along came the writer
who sat down beside her
and said, "you fit like a glove."

The poem was signed 16.4, which was Whitman's method of concealing Doyle's identity,[5] and is thought to represent the sudden and explosive sexual relationship that is rumoured to have existed between the two.

See also

References

  1. Opie, I. & Opie, P. (1997) [1951]. The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhyms (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 323–4.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  2. Earlier versions mention ″little spider.″ See, e.g.: Mother Goose's Nursery Rhymes. A Collection of Alphabets, Rhymes, Tales, and Jingles. L., George Routledge and Sons, 1877, p. 263
  3. "Was Little Miss Muffet a local girl?". Brookmans Park Newsletter. Retrieved February 4, 2009.
  4. Sorby, A. (2005). Schoolroom Poets: Childhood and the Place of American Poetry, 1865–1917. UPNE. p. 80.
  5. Shively, C.Calamus Lovers: Walt Whitman's Working Class Camerados (San Francisco, CA: Gay Sunshine Press, 1987), ISBN 978-0-917342-18-9.

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