Ladybird Ladybird

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"Ladybird Ladybird"
Roud #16215
Written byTraditional
Publishedc. 1744
WrittenEngland
LanguageEnglish
FormNursery rhyme
 
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"Ladybird Ladybird"
Roud #16215
Written byTraditional
Publishedc. 1744
WrittenEngland
LanguageEnglish
FormNursery rhyme

"Ladybird Ladybird" (sometimes rendered as "Ladybug Ladybug", particularly in the US) is an English language nursery rhyme. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 16215.

The rhyme[edit]

This traditional verse relates to Ladybirds, brightly coloured insects commonly viewed as lucky. The English version has been dated to at least 1744, when it appeared in a collection of nursery rhymes.[1] The verse has several popular forms, including:

Ladybird, ladybird fly away home,
Your house is on fire and your children are gone,
All except one,
And her name is Ann,
And she hid under the baking pan.

A shorter, grimmer version is also widespread:

Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home,
Your house is on fire,
Your children shall burn!

Ann who hides may also be Nan, Anne or Little Anne. She may have hidden under a warming pan, porridge pan, frying pan or even a pudding pan.[2] Some variants are radically different:

All except one and her name was Aileen
And she hid under a soup tureen.[3]

The 'little one' also may not be hiding at all, as in the following:

Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home.
Your house is on fire;
Your children all roam.
Except little Nan
Who sits in her pan
Weaving her laces as fast as she can.

And from Peterborough:

Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home, / Your horse is on foot, your children are gone;
All but one, and that's little John, / And he lies under the grindle stone.[4]

Several more variants exist, some saying "your children alone". Variants are known in the USA, some attached to Doodlebugs.[5]

From Favorite Poems Old and New, Selected for boys and girls by Helen Ferris (1957):

Lady-bird, Lady-bird, fly away home
the field mouse is gone to her nest
the daisies have shut up their sleepy red eyes
and the birds and the bees are at rest
Lady-bird, Lady-bird, fly away home
the glow worm is lighting her lamp
the dew's falling fast, and your fine speckled wings
will flag with the close clinging damp
Lady-bird, Lady-bird, fly away home
the fairy bells tinkle afar
make haste or they'll catch you and harness you fast
with a cobweb to Oberon's star[6]

Meanings[edit]

There were superstitious beliefs that it was unlucky to kill a ladybird, and that the verse would make them fly off.[7] Another superstition states that you should chant the verse if a ladybird lands on you: if it then flies away again, your wish will come true.[8]

Ladybirds are useful as eaters of aphids, which would otherwise damage plants. They can also be a nuisance, but there would be logic from a farmer or gardener’s viewpoint in trying to shoo them away rather than kill them. This could be the rational basis for teaching children to respect them.

This little Nan version could be a reference to the habit of setting fires to smoke the bugs out of plants. It caused the ladybugs to fly away. The younger insects, in maggot form, would have to crawl away. Thus "your children all roam". The insects in pupate form, within their shells, would not be able to flee the danger and thus would die from the smoke or fire. The idea is that Nan is within her pupal case and cannot flee until she breaks free - "weaving her laces", undoing her pupal case.

Several more variants exist, some saying "your children alone". Variants are known in the USA, some attached to Doodlebugs.[9]

Cultural references[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), p. 263.
  2. ^ http://trmg.designwest.com/TRMG4.html.
  3. ^ http://www.idabc.com/bod.html.
  4. ^ http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17269/17269.txt.
  5. ^ http://www.antlionpit.com/folklore.html/
  6. ^ Helen Ferris, Favorite Poems Old and New, Selected for boys and girls (Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1957.
  7. ^ http://www.electricscotland.com/poetry/redmond6.htm
  8. ^ http://www.quixoticpixels.com/photos/2006/05/lady_bird.html.
  9. ^ http://www.antlionpit.com/folklore.html.
  10. ^ Mark Twain. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. (1876, 1978 Octopus Publishing reprint) p. 82.