As I was going to St Ives

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"As I was going to St Ives"
Roud #19772
Written byTraditional
Publishedc. 1730
WrittenEngland
LanguageEnglish
FormNursery rhyme/riddle
 
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"As I was going to St Ives"
Roud #19772
Written byTraditional
Publishedc. 1730
WrittenEngland
LanguageEnglish
FormNursery rhyme/riddle

"As I was going to St Ives" is a traditional English-language nursery rhyme in the form of a riddle. Its Roud Folk Song Index number is 19772.

Lyrics[edit]

The most common modern version is:

As I was going to St. Ives,
I met a man with seven wives,
Each wife had seven sacks,
Each sack had seven cats,
Each cat had seven kits:
Kits, cats, sacks, and wives,
How many were there going to St. Ives?[1]

Origins[edit]

The earliest known published version of it comes from a manuscript dated to around 1730 (but it differs in referring to "nine" rather than "seven" wives).[1] The modern form was first printed around 1825.[1] A similar problem appears in the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus (Problem 79), dated to around 1650 BC, which could be described with the following text:

There are seven houses;
In each house there are seven cats;
Each cat catches seven mice;
Each mouse would have eaten seven ears of corn;
If sown, each ear of corn would have produced seven hekat of grain.
How many things are mentioned altogether?[2]

There are a number of places called St Ives in England and elsewhere. It is generally thought that the rhyme refers to St Ives, Cornwall, when it was a busy fishing port and had many cats to stop the rats and mice destroying the fishing gear, although some people argue it was St Ives, Huntingdonshire as this is an ancient market town and therefore an equally plausible destination.[3][4]

Answers[edit]

All potential answers to this riddle are based on its ambiguity because the riddle only tells us the group has been "met" on the journey to St. Ives and gives no further information about its intentions, only those of the narrator. As such, any one of the following answers is plausible, depending on the intention of the other party:

Rhind mathematical papyrus[edit]

A similar problem is found in the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus (Problem 79), dated to around 1650 BC. The papyrus is translated as follows:[5]

A house inventory:
houses7
12,801cats49
25,602mice343
411,204spelt2,301 [sic]
hekat16,807
Total19,607Total19,607

The problem appears to be an illustration of an algorithm for multiplying numbers. The sequence 7, 7 × 7, 7 × 7 × 7, ..., appears in the right-hand column, and the terms 2,801, 2 × 2,801, 4 × 2,801 appear in the left; the sum on the left is 7 × 2,801 = 19,607, the same as the sum of the terms on the right. Note that the author of the papyrus listed a wrong value for the fourth power of 7; it should be 2,401, not 2,301. However, the sum of the powers (19,607) is correct.

The problem has been paraphrased by modern commentators as a story problem involving houses, cats, mice, and grain, although in the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus there is no discussion beyond the bare outline stated above. The hekat was 130 of a cubic cubit (approximately 4.8 l or 1.1 imp gal; 1.3 US gal).

Use in popular culture[edit]

As I was going to St Ives
I met a man with seven wives
Of course, the seven wives weren't his
But here in France, that's how it is

and

As I was going to St Ives
I met a man with seven wives
I know this sounds absurd and loony
But that poor man was Mickey Rooney!

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), pp. 376–7.
  2. ^ "Transcript EPISODE 17 – RHIND MATHEMATICAL PAPYRUS". A history of the world. BBC. Retrieved 26 February 2012. 
  3. ^ Hudson, Noel (1989), St Ives, Slepe by the Ouse, St Ives Town Council, p. 131, ISBN 978-0-9515298-0-5 
  4. ^ Flanagan, Bridget (2003), The St Ives Problem, a 4000 Year Old Nursery Rhyme?, ISBN 0-9540824-1-9 
  5. ^ Maor, Eli (2002) [1988], "Recreational Mathematics in Ancient Egypt", Trigonometric Delights, Princeton University Press, pp. 11–14 (in PDF, 1–4), ISBN 978-0-691-09541-7, retrieved 2009-04-19 

References[edit]