Creepy Nursery Rhymes

I didn’t get much into the nursery rhymes in my last post about Grimm fairy tales, but I’ve been researching them for my novella. Creepy nursery rhymes are almost worse than disturbing fairy tales. They have the same effect—a chilling desecration of innocence—but in a more compact package. What seals the deal is the bouncy, rhyming aspect of them. They sound nice and singsongy, but when you actually look at the lyrics, something sinister lurks beneath the surface.

“There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” seems innocent enough but brings to mind images of Renfield from Dracula and the horrors of some sort of insane eating disorder. Just imagine someone eating spiders!

That's some Fear Factor shit right there.

There was an old lady who swallowed a fly,
I don’t know why she swallowed a fly,
Perhaps she’ll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a spider,
That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her,
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly,
I don’t know why she swallowed the fly,
Perhaps she’ll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a bird,
How absurd! to swallow a bird,
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider,
That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her,
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly,
I don’t know why she swallowed the fly,
Perhaps she’ll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a cat,
Imagine that! to swallow a cat,
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird,
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider,
That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her,
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly,
I don’t know why she swallowed the fly,
Perhaps she’ll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a dog,
What a hog! to swallow a dog,
She swallowed the dog to catch the cat,
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird,
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider,
That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her,
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly,
I don’t know why she swallowed the fly,
Perhaps she’ll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a goat,
Just opened her throat! to swallow a goat,
She swallowed the goat to catch the dog,
She swallowed the dog to catch the cat,
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird,
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider,
That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her,
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly,
I don’t know why she swallowed the fly,
Perhaps she’ll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a cow,
I don’t know how she swallowed a cow!
She swallowed the cow to catch the goat,
She swallowed the goat to catch the dog,
She swallowed the dog to catch the cat,
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird,
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider,
That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her,
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly,
I don’t know why she swallowed the fly,
Perhaps she’ll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a horse,
She’s dead—of course!

It’s kind of cute, especially the cumulative aspect of it, but something just nags at me. Maybe the way it keeps wondering if this woman is going to die, and then so nonchalantly tells us that, yes, all of her compulsive eating has led to her death.

Weirdness and death have a way of weaving their way into all sorts of folk rhymes, and since little poems with a perfect rhyme structure are automatically assumed to be for children, well… they end up being creepy children’s rhymes. How about this one? You probably heard it if you ever saw A Haunting in Connecticut.

One bright day in the middle of the night,
Two dead boys got up to fight.
Back to back they faced each other,
drew their swords and shot each other.
A deaf policeman heard the noise
and ran to save the two dead boys.
And if you don’t believe it’s true,
go ask the blind man, he saw it too.

Yeah, there’s all sorts of intended weirdness in that one. Disregarding the fact that the poem is about two dead boys, we’ve got paradoxes all over the place, turning the poem into a contradiction of itself. It’s an exercise in nonsense, and the confusion only adds to the creep factor.

Then you get poems written specifically to be creepy but also to be for children; therefore humor is mixed in with the creepiness. These would appear in grotesque little scary story books that weirdos like me loved reading as a kid. One of those is “The Hearse Song.”

Don’t you ever laugh as the hearse goes by,
For you may be the next to die.

They wrap you up in a big white sheet
From your head down to your feet.

They put you in a big black box
And cover you up with dirt and rocks.

All goes well for about a week,
Then your coffin begins to leak.

The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out,
The worms play pinochle on your snout.

They eat your eyes, they eat your nose,
They eat the jelly between your toes.

A big green worm with rolling eyes
Crawls in your stomach and out your eyes.

Your stomach turns a slimy green,
And pus pours out like whipping cream.

You spread it on a slice of bread,
And that’s what you eat when you are dead.

I’m not sure why anyone would have to be told not to laugh when they see a hearse… but anyway, this poem seems like it’s for kids. It’s got moments of wonderful morbid humor, like the worms playing pinochle and eating toe-jam. Ending the whole thing with smearing pus on bread and eating that when you’re dead is also kind of hilarious, in a sick twisted way. There’s a lot of nice gruesome imagery for little readers to enjoy that will probably make them opt for cremation.

Got any more creepy nursery rhymes you want to share? Post them below. I’d love to see some more good ones and explanations for why they creeped you out, either as a kid or as an adult.

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43 thoughts on “Creepy Nursery Rhymes”

  1. “There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
    She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do;
    She gave them some broth without any bread;
    Then whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.”

    I mean come on that is awful child rearing whipping the children soundly without any food! And some versions were said to end

    “Then out went th’ old woman to bespeak ‘em a coffin,
    And when she came back, she found ‘em all a-loffeing”

    1. Ouch! That is horrible. Beating your children and not feeding them well isn’t exactly what you want to see in a nursery rhyme. No idea what “a-loffeing” means, but going out to get them a coffin is not a good sign. Clearly this woman needed to learn about birth control.

  2. I vaguely recall reading the book that “The Hearse Song” was in. That illustration helped the ol’ memory muscle. I got it from one of those scholastic catalogs that schools give to kids. I wish I could remember more from those collections.
    Some of the stories you were to read aloud, and at certain points SHOUT in order to scare the listener(s). hee hee. I liked those parts.

    Whatever the various interpretation is just the imagery of someone, or a possessed egg, falling off a wall, and ending up in such a broken condition unable to be put back together was gruesome to me. And then picturing horses and men trying to put the shattered body back together added some gross surrealism.
    Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
    Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
    All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
    Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

    1. The books are ‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’. There are Three in all.
      I found this really interesting. I never would have thought about the first one being creepy but now that I think about it… The only nursery rhymes I think of being creepy are like ‘Ring around the Rosie’ and ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’ and all those other ‘historical’ rhymes.

  3. Only “There Was an Old Lady…” rings a bell with me. Definitely never heard about “The Hearse Song.”

    This post made me think of one song/rhyme that I read recently as part of “The Hunger Games Trilogy: Mockingjay,” and I had to go and look up if it was a real rhyme or if it was made specifically for the book. Turns out it was the later, but I think it’s fitting to the theme of your post so I’ll post that here for your pleasure. It was used in the book as a song remembered by the protagonist as something her father sang to her as a child, which made her mother freak out because of the dark content and thus was forbidden to sing it (of course, that means she knew it by heart instead).

    And…for some reason I don’t think I can copy/paste it here. Link instead. Go down to “The Hanging Tree.”
    http://thehungergames.wikia.com/wiki/Songs

  4. Love these! Here’s one….

    “The other day upon the stair,
    I met a man who wasn’t there.
    He wasn’t there again today,
    How I wish, I wish he’d go away.”

  5. this on is from a movie so you may recognize it
    Beware the stare of Mary Shaw. She had no children, only her dolls. If you see her in your dreams, be sure you never, ever scream or she’ll rip your tongue out at the seam

  6. You may or may not have heard them before:
    “How doth the crocodile,
    Improve his shining tail?
    And pour the water of the nial,
    On every golden scale.
    How cheerfully he seems to grin.
    How neatly spreads his claws.
    And welcomes the little fishes in,
    With gently smiling jaws.”
    And:
    “A man and a horse,
    Above, below,
    One has a plan, but both must go.
    A man and a horse,
    Above, beneth,
    One has a smile and one has teeth.
    Though the man above might say hello,
    Expect no love from the beast below.”

    1. @Samantha Obsidian
      You may or may not have heard them before:
      “How doth the crocodile,
      Improve his shining tail?
      And pour the water of the nial,
      On every golden scale.
      How cheerfully he seems to grin.
      How neatly spreads his claws.
      And welcomes the little fishes in,
      With gently smiling jaws.”

      Yes that poem I heard from the original movie version of Alice In Wonderland. I have an odd obsession with that movie.

  7. Here’s one about an actual killer. Mary Anne Cotton was a British woman who lived in the mid to late 1800′s. She married repeatedly, had several children and poisoned them all with arsenic. Arsenic testing was in its infancy so a doctor who became suspicious tested a child who had died. Mary Anne Cotton was hung. It is estimated she killed over 30 people though no one knows the exact number. This is a jump rope rhyme along the lines of “Lizzy Borden took an ax.”

    Mary Anne Cotton
    She’s dead and she’s rotten
    Lying in bed with her eyes wide open
    Sing, sing, oh what song should I sing?
    Mary Anne Cotton is tied up in string.
    Where, where
    She’s up in the air
    And now they’re selling puddings for a penny a pair.

  8. I loved the hearse song! And the picture below was an awesome effect, love how it’s drawn. I think I heard the hearse song on a video on YouTube about funeral directing.

  9. I know a few. I’m not a very normal child myself.

    “Mary Ann Cotton;
    She’s dead and she’s rotten;
    She lays in her bed with her eyes wide open;
    Sing-sing;
    Oh what may I sing;
    Mary Ann Cotton is tied up with string;
    Where-where;
    Up in the air;
    Selling black pudding a penny a pair.”

    “She’s dead and she’s rotten” can be substituted for “Dead and forgotten”. Anywho. That one is about Britain’s first female serial killer who killed twenty one people, [lovers, children, and husbands] and got away with it for quite some time.

    Another is:

    “Old father long legs couldn’t say his prayers;
    Take him by the left leg and throw him down the stairs;
    Before he is forgotten;
    Before he long has lain;
    Take him by the right leg and throw him up again.”

    I don’t know exactly where this originated and why. I’m sure just to scare children into saying their prayers. I mean come on! Who wants to get thrown down the stairs. I tripped and fell a few steps and nearly about cried, I was so terrified. Reason number one as to why I will never have steps in my house. Flat as a brick! Continuing on.

    “I charge my daughters;
    Every one;
    To keep good house while I am gone;
    And you and you and especially you;
    Or else I’ll beat you black and blue!”

    I actually heard this a few times. Its horrible to think about abuse and then they go and make a rhyme about it. Its entertaining to sing though. I find myself chanting this out of nowhere. I can be trying to sleep and this will run through my head and I just have to chant it once or twice. Usually scares the heck out of my brother.

    Then of course there’s the infamous “Ring around the Rosie” and “Jack and Jill”. But I’m sure we all know these seeing as these are the rhymes we most likely all grew up with. Anywho. There are tons more that didn’t even make the shelves. That is because they have dark sinister meanings that plainly show through the wording and whatnot. It took me forever to find nursery rhymes that weren’t so common that just any old Joe walking around on the street would know. Anywho. I hoped you enjoyed this. I’ll post more when I find them.

    Thank you for your time.

    1. Oh. And I remember a very long, particularly gruesome rhyme. Gruesome for me anyways.

      “Baby baby;
      Naughty baby;
      Hush you squalling thing I say!;
      Peace this moment;
      Peace or maybe;
      Bonaparte will pass this way!;

      Baby baby;
      Hes a giant;
      Tall and black as Rouen Steeple;
      And he breakfasts, dines, rely on’t;
      Everyday on naughty people;

      Baby baby;
      If he hears you;
      As he gallops past the house;
      Limb from limb at once he’ll tear you;
      Just as pussy tears a mouse;

      And he’ll beat you, beat you, beat you;
      And he’ll beat you into pap;
      And he’ll eat you, eat you, eat you;
      Every morsel;
      Snap snap snap!”

      Okay! So! Who here wants to eat babies! This was sung to children to get them to behave back in Napoleon’s day. I don’t know why I think its so gruesome. Maybe its because I have a younger sibling and I’m appalled by the thought of anyone eating children as young as him. I would be scared out of my wits if this was sung to me when Napoleon was large.

    2. ‘ “Old father long legs couldn’t say his prayers;
      Take him by the left leg and throw him down the stairs;
      Before he is forgotten;
      Before he long has lain;
      Take him by the right leg and throw him up again.” ‘

      Back in 16th century Europe Protestants were killing off Catholics. Priests or ‘Fathers’ especially were in high demand as there was a reward for the Protestant who was able to find and execute one. The method of execution was often tying him by the legs and throwing him down a flight of stairs (thus the last line in the rhyme). Unless he would begin to say his prayers in English rather than Latin.

      The nursery rhyme ‘Goosey Goosey Gander’ is also a reference to these acts of violence toward Catholics.

    3. old father long legs is about in the 16th century when people were killing Catholics, the couldn’t say his prayers was that they would throw them down the stairs if the said there prayers in Latin instead of English

  10. The rain man comes
    He knocks on my door
    with bellowing fire
    and frightening roars
    In the morgue
    he quietly waits
    and often says my soul he’ll take.

  11. There is a creepy nursery rhyme called “Ten Little Indians” and it goes

    “Ten little Indian boys went out to dine;

    One choked his little self and then there were nine.

    Nine little Indian boys sat up very late;

    One overslept himself and then there were eight.

    Eight little Indian boys traveling in Devon;

    One said he’d stay there and then there were seven.

    Seven little Indian boys chopping up sticks;

    One chopped himself in halves and then there were six.

    Six little Indian boys playing with a hive;

    A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.

    Five little Indian boys going in for law,

    One got in Chancery and then there were four.

    Four little Indian boys going out to sea;

    A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.

    Three little Indian boys walking in the Zoo;

    A big bear hugged one and then there were two.

    Two little Indian boys sitting in the sun;

    On got frizzled up and then there was one.

    One little Indian boy left all alone;

    He went and hanged himself and then there were none.”

    creepy.

  12. Has anyone done Oranges and Lemons yet? It’s a game, like London Bridge. If you’ve read “1984″ for English class you’ll probably recognize the last verse. Both it and London Bridge have creepy origins – it was common in Roman times to bury a virgin ( usually a baby or small child) in a bridge to bring you luck. It was believed the lady would protect the bridge and its travelers. They’ve found the bodies of babies in bridges that date to that time and they think that the
    “my fair lady” the rhyme talks about is from an earlier bridge that was there.

    Oranges and Lemons is equally sinister – I’ve never been to London but they say the bells that are mentioned in the rhyme are the ones you would see as you were on your way to traitor’s gate.
    That’s where the “here comes a chopper to chop off your head” supposedly comes from. Anyway, here’s a version of it.

    Gay go up and gay go down,
    To ring the bells of London town.

    Oranges and lemons,
    Say the bells of St. Clements.

    Bull’s eyes and targets,
    Say the bells of St. Margret’s.

    Brickbats and tiles,
    Say the bells of St. Giles’.

    Halfpence and farthings,
    Say the bells of St. Martin’s.

    Pancakes and fritters,
    Say the bells of St. Peter’s.

    Two sticks and an apple,
    Say the bells of Whitechapel.

    Pokers and tongs,
    Say the bells of St. John’s.

    Kettles and pans,
    Say the bells of St. Ann’s.

    Old Father Baldpate,
    Say the slow bells of Aldgate.

    You owe me ten shillings,
    Say the bells of St. Helen’s.

    When will you pay me?
    Say the bells of Old Bailey.

    When I grow rich,
    Say the bells of Shoreditch.

    Pray when will that be?
    Say the bells of Stepney.

    I do not know,
    Says the great bell of Bow.

    Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
    Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.

    Chop chop chop chop
    The last man’s dead!

  13. instantly the priestess changed into a monstrous goblin-spider and the warrior found himself caught fast in her web.
    Form Grimm

  14. ” Lizzy Borden took an axe
    gave her mother 40 whacks
    when she had saw what she had done
    she gave her father 41.”

  15. these ones have always scared me;
    roses are red violets are blue
    my name is blood boy and I’m coming for you.

    i know this is out of a film but apperently it is actually of historical meaning:
    1,2 freddies coming for you
    3,4 better lock your door
    5,6 grab your crucifix
    7,8 dont stay up late

  16. So there’s this poem called Little Orphan Annie by James Whitcomb Riley, and now that I’m older I’ve realized just how disturbing it actually is. My mom used to recite it for me when I was little and it’ll about Annie telling the children these horrible stories about what happens when they’re disrespectful and don’t pray. The boy that didn’t pray is heard screaming and crying on the middle of the night by his parents and they discover that he’s not in his bed. Then they run all over the place searching for him, only to find his “trousers and roundabouts”. The girl “shocks and mocks” her elders and runs to hide from them, but these two big black things show up by her sides and drag her through the ceiling. I don’t know why my mother would tell me a story like that…..after each stanza ot says “and the goblins’ll get ya if ya don’t watch out!”……

  17. The only nursery rhyme that i knew that creeped me was was ten little indians, not the one you would here on kids shows like barney, but the one that was on Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were none.

    Ten little Indian boys went out to dine;
    One choked his little self and then there were nine.

    Nine little Indian boys sat up very late;
    One overslept himself and then there were eight.

    Ten little Indian boys traveling in Devon;
    One said he’d stay there and then there were seven.

    Seven little Indian boys chopping up sticks;
    One chopped himself in halves and then there were six.

    Six little Indian boys playing with a hive;
    A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.

    Five little Indian boys going in for law;
    One got in Chancery and then there were four.

    Four little Indian boys going out to sea;
    A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.

    Three little Indian boys walking in the zoo;
    A big bear hugged one of them and then there were two.

    Two little Indian boys sitting in the sun;
    One got frizzled up and then there was one.

    One little Indian boy left all alone;
    He went and hanged himself and then there were none.

  18. Have you heard this one?

    Ten little Indian boys went out to dine
    one choked his little self and then there were nine

    Nine little Indian boys sat up very late
    One overslept himself and then there were eight

    Eight little indian boys traveling to devon
    one said he’d stay there and then there were seven

    Seven little indian boys chopping up sticks
    One cut themselves in half and then there were six

    Six little indian boys playing with a hive
    One a bumble bee stung one and then there were five

    Five little indian boys going in for law
    one got into chancery and then there were four

    Four little Indian boys walking in the zoo
    A big bear hugged one and then there were two

    Two little indian boys sitting in the sun
    One got frizzled up and the there was one

    One little indian boy left all a alone
    He went and hanged himself

    And Then There Were None

    You can read a story were ten random strangers get lured onto an island by U.N. Owen. They are haunted my this riddle and they start to die. One by One. Who is the killer and will any of them survive? Read “And Then There Were None” to find out.

  19. Doctor Ruxon
    Red stains on the carpet, red stains on you’re knife,
    Oh dear Doctor Ruxon you muredered you’re wife.
    The nursemaid she saw you, and thretened to tell,
    Oh dear Doctor Ruxon, you klled her as well.

    and

    Hush, hush sweet Charlotte:
    Chop, chop sweet Charlotte,
    Chop till he’s dead.
    Chop, chop sweet Charlotte,
    Chop off his hand and head.

    Can’t even shout, can’t even cry.
    The gentlemn are coming by.
    Looking in windows, knocking on doors…
    They need to take seven, they might take youre’s…
    Can’t call to mom, can’t say a word.
    You’re gonna’ die screaming, but you won’t be heard.

  20. Here’s some more about serial killers; they’re along the lines of “Mary Anne Cotton” or “Lizzy Borden took an axe”

    (Buck Ruxton was a doctor in England in 1935. He killed his wife and maid).
    Red stains on the carpet, red stains on the knife
    oh Dr. Ruxton you’ve murdered your wife
    The nursemaid said she saw you and threatened to tell
    Oh, Dr. Ruxton, you’ve killed her as well.

    Fritz Haarman
    (Fritz Haarman was a man in 1920′s Germany. He murdered 27 boys and young men)
    Just you wait till it’s your time
    Haarman will come after you
    And with his chopper oh so fine
    He’ll make mincemeat out of you.

    Bell Gunness
    (Bell was a woman who murdered over 40 men in America in the late 1800′s).
    Bell Gunness was a lady fair in Indiana state
    She weighted about three hundred pounds and that is quite some weight
    That she was stronger than a man, her neighbors all did own
    She butchered hogs quite easily and did it all alone
    But hogs were just a sideline she indulged in now and then
    Her favorite occupation was the butchering of men

    I always found “Three blind mice”, “Jack and Jill”, “Ladybug, ladybug” and “It’s raining, it’s pouring” creepy. In the first one the farmer’s wife cuts off their tails. In the second they fall down a hill and break their heads. In the third one, a ladybug’s house is on fire and her children are presumably burning to death. In the forth one a man goes outside, sees it’s raining, hits his head on his way to bed and dies in the night.

  21. I was watching little girls play this today and this is a oddly creepy expression. Does anyone remember playing “Mama had a baby and her head popped off” with dandelions? You would say the line and blow the head off the dandelion? It does make you wonder where it came from.

  22. These are some good creepy nursery rhymes. I also know this rhyme from a video game at the arcade. “When the moon is full and the trees are bare, Walk through the cementary if you dare. Where skeletons rot and the corpses fester, Locate the thomb with a skull of a Jester. Feed him the token all shiny and new, It is then that CarnEvil will return for you. Here’s another one “What goes up, must come down. Now your headed into Rickety town. Ride all the rides, and have some fun. Then eat your heart out, on a sesamead sead bund.

  23. Antigonish

    Yesterday, upon the stair,
    I met a man who wasn’t there.
    He wasn’t there again today,
    I wish, I wish he’d go away…

    When I came home last night at three,
    The man was waiting there for me
    But when I looked around the hall,
    I couldn’t see him there at all!
    Go away, go away, don’t you come back any more!
    Go away, go away, and please don’t slam the door…

    Last night I saw upon the stair,
    A little man who wasn’t there,
    He wasn’t there again today
    Oh, how I wish he’d go away…

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