Pumpkin Eater

Peter, Peter, pumpkin-eater,
Had a wife and couldn’t keep her;
He put her in a pumpkin shell,
And there he kept her very well.

So…I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me to think that if he couldn’t keep her and had to lock her away in a pumpkin shell, there is something terribly wrong with this relationship. Let’s just say it – this is kidnapping! How on earth can this be one of the most common Mother Goose rhymes? It’s cute, I suppose, to see a little woman living inside a pumpkin—I mean, I loved the story of Thumbelina when I was little—but it seems clear that this woman wants out of this relationship. The lack of punishment or any sort of negative consequences for this outrageous and illegal behavior is disturbing.

I had a little husband no bigger than my thumb,
I put him in a pint pot, and there I bid him drum,
I bought a little handkerchief to wipe his little nose,
And a pair of little garters to tie his little hose.

Finally, the shoe is on the other foot! Mother Goose seems quite the misogynist for the most part, so it’s nice to see a woman in charge in one of her rhymes for a change. Not that mistreatment of men is anything to rejoice either, but unlike today’s first rhyme, there’s nothing in this one that implies the husband is being held against his will. He might be perfectly content. It seems that the wife is trying to make him comfortable, at least.

 When I was a bachelor
I lived by myself;
And all the bread and cheese I got
I laid up on the shelf.

The rats and the mice
They made such a strife,
I was forced to go to London
To buy me a wife.

The streets were so bad,
And the lanes were so narrow,
I was forced to bring my wife home
In a wheelbarrow.

The wheelbarrow broke,
And my wife had a fall;
Down came wheelbarrow,
Little wife and all.

And…we’re back to our regularly scheduled program. True, this one is not nearly as offensive as the pumpkin eater, but this verse has a strong implication that the wife is being acquired to serve as a maid to this bachelor, someone to cook and keep the rodents away. Also, he bought her? From whom? How? I supposed it’s nice that he didn’t want her to have to walk all the way home, but it seems like when she gets there, there isn’t going to be anything good in store for her.

Needles and pins, needles and pins,
When a man marries his trouble begins.

Oh, come on. I can’t even pretend to try to find anything redeeming in this one.

Verdict: Ladies, instead of wedding vows, recite these verses to yourselves over and over, and realize that marriage is probably best avoided.

It’s widely understood that Aesop’s fables had a lesson to impart to the reader. It’s less commonly known, but no less true, that the original Grimm’s fairy tales contained a lot of violence and sexual content that was inappropriate for children. But what about Mother Goose? Were the colorfully illustrated nursery rhymes in your Little Golden Book really so innocent? Were they carefully curated to be only about silliness and pat-a-cake? Let’s explore the reality together in this year’s Blogging From A to Z April Challenge.

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