Sunday, May 6, 2007

Ring Around the Rosey

Most of us have sung this song as children. However, this rhyme has a much darker meaning . . .

During the outbreak of the plague in England, first in the 1300s and then later in the 1660s, children would sing this song as a means of coping with and understanding the horror of the plague occurring around them. Here is the most common interpretation of the children’s nursery rhyme.

“Ring Around the Rosey”
One of the first signs of the infection was a small, pink rash on the skin, surrounded by a bumpy red ring that would eventually appear all over the victim’s body.

“Pocket Full of Posey”

Many people at that time believed that the infection was spread through foul-smelling, dirty air. They would, therefore, stuff their pockets with fresh smelling items, such as flowers, to protect themselves from “bad air,” the sweet smell canceling out the bad. In addition, those already infected with the virus and still mobile would carry flowers in their pockets to cover the “foul stench that would begin to emanate from [their bodies] as their lymph system began filling with blood.”

“Ashes, Ashes”
This line has two interpretations. The first: Once a body had perished from the plague virus, a cart would travel through the town and collect them. The bodies would then be dumped in a heap and burned, so as to once again prevent the spread of infection.
The second: “In the terminal phases of the disease, victims would be hemorrhaging internally, sometimes triggering sneezing as it irritated the breathing passages. "Ashes" is a child's approximation of a paroxysm of sneezing. In this weakened state, a victim could, and often did, sneeze their lungs out.”

“We All Fall Down”
This line is, of course, where death finally enters the victim and, ultimately, all of us.

Here is another version of the rhyme:
Ring-a-ring o’ rosies,
A pocketful of posies,
Ah-tishoo! Ah-tishoo! (imitative of sneezing)
We all fall down!


Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Currently Reading

"A Pair of Blue Eyes" by Thomas Hardy
Details About . . .

"Thomas Hardy" by Claire Tomalin
Details About . . .

English Plague Physcians

When death visited England in the mid 1500s in the form of the Bubonic Plague, the physicians that would routinely visit patients adopted a strange-looking outift that consisted of a long black robe, a waist pouch, and oddly-looking enough, a large beak-like mask that protruded from the doctor's face. In addition to these things, the physicians also wore leather gloves, hats, and boots. All of these items played a guard's role in protecting the doctor from one of England's most deadly diseases.

You could easily imagine what it might have been like to be visited by these Elizabethan-era plague doctors that looked like the reaper of death themselves. The robe, the gloves, the hat, and the boots were all security devices against the fleas that carried the virus. The mask and waist pouch, however, were actually filled with various herbs and oils, some even including dried blood and ground up toad, that were believed to prevent the spread of the disease. The mask allowed the doctor to breathe in "safe" air, as opposed to taking in the diseased air of the victim.

To learn more about the Elizabethan-era plague in England, visit