Sunday, August 04, 2013

Say What? Goes the Weasel

The other day, Julian was darting past me when I snatched him up and plopped him on my lap.  I then began to sing Pop! Goes the Weasel with the intention of doing some kind of "pop" at the end, either bouncing him high or dropping him low.  But then I realized I didn't know the words.  Something about a mulberry bush?  So I looked it up and found the weirdest crap. I didn't read it all (ain't nobody got time for that) but I started reading and knew it was an old timey English nursery rhyme or something that probably originated from some horribly tragic historical event that children eerily sing nowadays for play like London's Burning or these weird rhymes.

Anyway, so I never did read the origin but I scanned through the verses trying to find one I liked so I could learn it and adopt it as the version I would sing now and henceforth.  But they are kind of whack.  Here are the most commonly-recited English versions:

Half a pound of tuppenny rice,
Half a pound of treacle.
That's the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel.

2nd verse:

Every night when I get home
The monkey's on the table,
Take a stick and knock it off,
Pop! goes the weasel. 
What the hey? What does any of this mean.   I can't use the first one because what's tuppenny to me? I guess it's like tuppence, like a monetary denomination but I don't really know anything about it, other than you can get a bag of birdseed for a tuppence, whatever that is. And I still haven't figured out what treacle is, after seven Harry Potter books. Some ingredient you put into some strange dessert.  Always sounded gross but who knows?

For the second verse, it takes a little too violent a turn than I'm comfortable with. Am I beating my pet monkey? With a stick? Is my monkey not really a monkey but, say, a child?  Where am I that monkeys can be kept as pets? Why do i hate it? why did i get this pet in the first place??  If not on the table, where do I want him to be?  See, too many questions there, too much discomfort.

One more version that was weird:
Jimmy's got the whooping cough
And Timmy's got the measles
That's the way the story goes
Pop! goes the weasel.
 That one just sounds depressing, like a plague struck a town and everyone died and everyone left went crazy and it's so horribly tragic that they, for some reason, turned the tale into a song for kids to sing.  Ugh. Jimmy died from whooping cough and Timmy from the measles?  I'm depressed.

As for the version I'd adopt, I felt like I needed it to make some sort of sense, and make the meaning more literal lest the "monkey" that's on the "table" be code for something sad, disturbing or what I would deem inappropriate in a child's song.  I needed to sing a version I was comfortable with, something lighthearted.  I finally satisfied myself with the American version, dating from 1914:

All around the Mulberry Bush,
The monkey chased the weasel.
The monkey stopped to pull up his sock
Pop! goes the weasel.
 I can get behind that one.  I'm picturing a mulberry bush in the front lawn and a rascally monkey is chasing a weasel, but when the monkey literally stops to pull up his literal sock, the weasel pulls a fast one and, catching the monkey by surprise, um.. "pops" the monkey, somehow.  Maybe pounces on him or flicks him in the forehead or something?  Harmless fun.  Plus, the rhyming is entertaining for me and satisfies my need for some kind of structure and meter, or other poem terms.  "monkey stopped to pull up his sock."  Catchy, right? 

So after reading all of these and their, what looks like to me, complete arbitrarity, I've decided to come up with my own versions that will maybe be adopted a hundred years from now because apparently you can put an-y-thing and call it a nursery rhyme.

To give myself some parameters,  most of them include a monkey and of course the weasel is going to be present, so I could make reference to it early on. But maybe not.  And maybe it should sort of rhyme, but not really. How about this:

The sun, it rises early today
The monkey grabs the chisel
And that's the way the story goes
Pop! goes the weasel.

Eh?  It's vaguely menacing.  What did he grab the chisel for?? What's going to happen?? Did the weasel stop it??   It keeps you guessing.

Or how about...

All our friends are gathered around
The monkey sits on Leisel
She gets up and begins to sup
Pop! goes the weasel.

Or I could not even choose a quasi-rhyming word and just use "weasel" twice, as in some versions.

Went to market to buy some eggs
Was followed by a weasel
He snuck behind and took what was mine
Pop! goes the weasel.

Here are Sean's:

Sometimes we sit and talk about dreams
Sometimes it's gas and diesel
It's always things that roll, beep, or fly
Pop! goes the weasel.


I have some paint, some canvas and brushes
I'd like to have an easel
Then I would have everything that I want
Pop! goes the weasel.

Now these sort of tell a real story, carry some internal logic. It almost makes too much sense.   Sean argues that there is the last line that makes no sense, and maybe he's right.  It's the mystery of the whole thing. You're telling a story or parable and all of a sudden, pop goes the weasel?  What's the "weasel"?  And what's the "pop"?  And you're left in some degree of unease.  I like it, I like it.

So what's one of your own? It's really easy, i swear.  give me one.  Anything is better than,

Cousin John was playing with flame
It burnt down our wood table
Next was the town, and everyone died
Pop! goes the weasel.  


Emily said...

hmmm I think I knew it as
All around the cobbler's bench
the monkey chased the weasel
the monkey thought 'twas all in fun
Pop! goes the weasel.

However I do have one tidbit. A weasel was the thing you wrap yarn (probably that you just made ) around to make a skein. There's a handy crank thing which, when you've rotated it a certain number of times Pops! out indicating you have measured out a full skien.

What that has to do with the rest of it all I have no idea. But since kids probably made it up does it have to? I mean come on, kids tell jokes like :
knock knock
who's there?
monkey who?
monkey sat on your face!

laura said...

Wayne and I were trying to find an Italian lullaby and the big classic we kept seeing over and over was this creepy one about how you're going to give the baby to a witch or a big wolf or a monster and you can't quite decide what horrific thing to hand it over to. Then at the last minute you decide to keep the kid for yourself. I'm not sure about how europeans treat their children.

I realized in my first week of motherhood that I know the words to almost no nursery rhymes or or lullabies! Thank goodness for being the primary chorister so recently.

Anonymous said...

Just realized I hate to Rhyme
It's irritating and painful
It takes up to much of my time
Pop! goes the Weasle

)en said...

Ha-- "darnit!" that should be a permanent addition.

Laura, that sounds just about right. That's what lullabies should be, right? A creepy story with terrifying connotations nestled sweetly in a soothing melody.

Emily, YES. Your version does ring a bell for me! However, though I feel like your explanation should help me, I find myself more confused than ever. I think i just need to live in blissful ignorance with this one.

Oh those silly monkeys and weasels...