A pocketful of rye
Four and twenty blackbirds
Baked in a pie
When the pie was opened
The birds began to sing
Wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king?
The king was in his counting-house
Counting out his money
The queen was in the parlour
Eating bread and honey
The maid was in the garden
Hanging out the clothes
When down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose
She made such a commotion
That little Jenny Wren
Flew down into the garden
And popped it on again.
Oh, the fascination and horror of this rhyme! Oh, the horrible cold conviction that the last verse has been tacked on afterwards to make it slightly less nightmarish (look, it doesn't even fit the rest of the rhyming-scheme)!
How can the birds sing when they've been baked? (I still don't know, but pies containing live birds were made and served to kings in mediaeval times.)
Was the maid the one who put the birds in the pie? If not, why is she the one to suffer?
I don't know any of the answers (and nor, I believe, does anyone else) but people have been guessing about this rhyme for a long time. The blackbirds might be rooks, the young of which do make a nice pie (or so I've been told); or they might be monks, and the king and queen the sun and the moon. Or the queen might be Catherine of Aragon and the maid Anne Boleyn. The pocketful might be an old grain measure. Twenty four might be to do with the Bible, and the lost nose might really be a lost soul,
What do I think?
I think that sometimes nothing is as important or effective as admitting with a shudder that we just don't know.
Word To Use Today: wren. This word comes from the Old English wrenna.