Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Woman Tossed Up In A Basket

Here is a neglected Mother Goose rhyme. I have put it to a tune.


There was an old woman tossed up in a basket,
Ninety-nine times as high as the moon;
And whither she went I just had to ask it,
For in her hands she carried a broom.
“Old woman, old woman, old woman,” said I,
“Whither, O whither, O whither so high?”
“To sweep the cobwebs off the sky.”
“May I come with you?”
“Aye, by-and-by.”

hi-C F G F A A A G A G A# A#
A A# A hiC hiC G F E F
A F G F A A G A G A# A#
A A# A hiC hiC G F E F
hiE hiF hiC hiC hiC A A A# A A# hiC
hiC hiD hiC hiC hiD hiC hiC A# A G
G F F A A G G A#
A# A A# hiC hiC 


I love this nursery rhyme, it’s so dreamlike. I never heard it as a child; only shortly after becoming a father; so I heard it fresh with adult ears. It was indeed with me... by and by.

It comes in many varieties:
in her hand/under her arm
“And I’ll be with you bye-and-by” /
“May I come with you?” “Aye, by and by.”
2*3*2*2 = 24 choices. I happen to like this particular mutation. This is a rhyme you have to co-create.

Who is she? A maid? A witch? An angel? A goddess? An astronaut? All of the above?
I like to think of the web-sweeping as the clearing of the mind during sleep.
The last-line choice creates ambiguity. Is she coming back to us or are we flying off with her?


Here are some historical notes:

And from
Dr. E. F. Rimbault, editor of “Nursery Rhymes” published in 1846, claims that “The Old Woman in a Basket” alludes to James II, the last Catholic monarch to rule over England, Scotland, and Ireland. His claim was possibly influenced by the fact that the rhyme’s associated tune is “Lilliburlero,” which “danced James II out of three kingdoms.” The song “Lilliburlero” mocks Irish Catholic Jacobite values. Another theory, published in “Mother Goose’s Melody,” (1765) states that the rhyme was written about Henry V by parties opposed to his war in France.

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