Thursday, May 21, 2015

Superstitions Shared in Children’s Poetry

Superstitions were placed in poems so they could easily be remembered. The format used most often for this was children’s rhymes.

A classic example of this is the children’s nursery rhyme, One For Sorrow. Verses were used because they could also be sung.

In this rhyme, the number of magpies one sees was used to determine how much good or bad luck a person will experience. The use of the magpie is significant because, in many cultures, this bird was considered an ill omen.

In America where magpies are less common, jackdaws, crows, and Corvidae were associated with this poem.

One of the earliest versions of this rhyme was recorded around 1780 in Lincolnshire:

One for sorrow,
Two for mirth,
Three for a wedding,
And four for death.

Another early version that expanded this theme was from London in 1846:

Counting Crows (title in America)

One for sorrow,
Two for luck; (or mirth)
Three for a wedding,
Four for death; (or birth)
Five for silver,
Six for gold;
Seven for a secret,
Not to be told;
Eight for heaven,
Nine for hell
And ten for the d(evil)’s own sell!

A more modern and common version is:

One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret,
Never to be told.

Another old superstition is if your ears itch, someone is talking about you.

“If your right ear itches, someone is speaking well of you and if your left ear itches, someone is speaking ill of you.”

More modern version:

“If your ears are ringing, someone’s talking about you.”

This superstition was first mentioned in Pliny’s “Natural History” encyclopedia over 2000 years ago.

In Janet S. Wongs book, Knock on Wood she shares poems about classic superstitions for children that address black cats, garlic, horseshoes, ladders, clover, salt, and mirrors, etc.

Here is her poem about ears itching.


Your right ear itches? Let it be.
Someone talks about you now,
how kind you are, smart, how good.
Let it be, let songs be sung.

Your left ear itches? Pinch it quick.
Someone talks about you now,
how mean you are, dumb, how bad.
Pinch it, let him bite his tongue.

Wong’s book can be bought on Amazon.

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