One for Sorrow (nursery rhyme)

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"One for Sorrow"
Roud #20096
Magpie arp.jpg
Written byTraditional
Publishedc. 1780
WrittenEngland
LanguageEnglish
FormNursery rhyme
 
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"One for Sorrow"
Roud #20096
Magpie arp.jpg
Written byTraditional
Publishedc. 1780
WrittenEngland
LanguageEnglish
FormNursery rhyme

"One for Sorrow" is a traditional children's nursery rhyme about magpies. According to an old superstition, the number of magpies one sees determines whether one will have bad luck or not. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 20096.

Lyrics[edit]

There is considerable variation in the lyrics used. The following is perhaps the most common modern version:

Version A

One for sorrow,

Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,

Seven for a secret never to be told.

This particular version is used in the Counting Crows song "A Murder of One."

In Ireland, it is common to recite "Five for a wedding".

Version B

One for sorrow

Two for mirth
Three for a funeral
Four for a birth
Five for heaven
Six for hell

Seven's the Devil his own self

The last line may be split and abbreviated as Seven's the De'il / his ane sel', which rhymes. Both versions above feature prominently in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel Carpe Jugulum.

Sometimes (but rarely), three extra lines are added:

Eight for a wish

Nine for a kiss

Ten for a bird that you won't want to miss.

or

Eight for a wish

Nine for a kiss

Ten for a time of Joyous Bliss

as the former is believed to have been written especially for the television show's credits.

Version C

In Yorkshire the Magpie Rhyme is as follows:

One for Sorrow

Two for Joy
Three for a Girl
Four for a Boy
Five for Silver
Six for Gold
Seven for a tale never to be told
Eight you Live
Nine you Die

Ten you eat a bogey pie!
Version D

In Warwickshire the rhyme is:

One brings Sorrow

Two bring Joy
Three a Girl
And Four a Boy
Five bring Want
And Six bring Gold
Seven bring secrets never told
Eight bring wishing
Nine bring kissing

Ten, the love my own heart's missing!
Version E

The version proposed by Maddy Prior in the popular folk song 'Magpie' is as follows;

One for Sorrow

Two for Joy
Three for a Wedding
Four for a Boy
Five for a Fiddler
Six for a Dance
Seven for Old England

and Eight for France
Version F (Manchester)

One for Sorrow

Two for joy
Three for a girl
Four for a boy
Five for silver
Six for gold
Seven for a secret never to be told
Eight for a wish
Nine for a kiss
Ten a surprise you should be careful not to miss
Eleven for health
Twelve for wealth

Thirteen beware it's the devil himself.
Version G (The London 2013 WotY Version)

One for Sorrow

Two for joy
Three for a girl
Four for a boy
Five for silver
Six for gold
Seven for a secret never to be told
Eight for platinum
Nine for gin

Ten for a colleague too drunk to come in!

Origins[edit]

One magpie at the birth of Jesus, perhaps presaging sorrow for Mary:[1] Piero della Francesca's Nativity.

The rhyme has its origins in superstitions connected with magpies, considered a bird of ill omen in some cultures, and in Britain, at least as far back as the early sixteenth century.[2] The rhyme was first recorded around 1780 in a note in John Brand's Observations on Popular Antiquitites on Lincolnshire with the lyric:

One for sorrow,
Two for mirth,
Three for a wedding,
And four for death.[2]

One of the earliest versions to extend this was published, with variations, in M. A. Denham's Proverbs and Popular Saying of the Seasons (London, 1846):

One for sorrow,
Two for luck; (or mirth)
Three for a wedding,
Four for death; (or birth)
Five for silver,
Six for gold;
Seven for a secret,
Not to be told;
Eight for heaven,
Nine for [hell]
And ten for the d[evi]l's own sell![2]

On occasion, jackdaws, crows, and other Corvidae are associated with the rhyme, particularly in America where magpies are less common.[3]

In popular culture[edit]

A version of the rhyme became familiar to many UK children in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s when it became the theme tune of an ITV childrens' TV show called Magpie.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Finaldi, Gabriele (1 December 1992). "Picture Choice: Gabriele Finaldi on pictorial wisdom in Piero's relaxed Nativity". The Independent. Retrieved 2 February 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c I. Opie and M. Tatem, eds, A Dictionary of Superstitions (Oxford University Press, 1989), pp. 235-6.
  3. ^ J. M. Marzluff, A. Angell, P. R. Ehrlich, In the Company of Crows and Ravens (Yale University Press, 2007), p. 127.

References[edit]