First recorded in 1744, in England “Sing a Song of Sixpence” is traditional nursery rhyme and like many other old songs the origin of this rhyme is unclear.

The reference at blackbirds in a pie didn’t appear in the first version of the song.

The first line of Sing a Song of Sixpence has been found in a song published by Tommy Thumb in his Pretty Song Book of 1744, London. Here are the lyrics of this song:

Sing a Song of Sixpence,
A bag full of Rye,
Four and twenty Naughty Boys,
Baked in a Pye!

The line “Sing a Song of Sixpence” also has been related to the much earlier Shakespeare’s play from 1602, Twelfth Night but the exact connections with the song cannot be verified.

“Come on; there is sixpence for you: let’s have a song” (Act II, Scene II; Dialogue: Sir Toby with a clown)

There is couple of variants that circulated in the 18th century; the most similar one with the modern rhyme was published around 1784 in The Nursery Parnassus collection by Gammer Gurton, in which a maid is attacked by a magpie. At that time the reference at blackbirds already appeared replacing the word boys. (One for Sorrow is another well known nursery rhyme with reference at magpies, as good-luck bringers).

Blackbirds cooked in a pie have been consumed as delicates. In the 16th century the birds were used as an entertainment joke, and in some recipes live birds used to be put inside a pie, and they were able to fly away from the pie when this was open. These sophisticated recipes were supposed to amuse the King.

The happy end version though only appeared in the 19th century. A new rhyme of 5 lines was added the original song in order to make it more delightful for kids.

“Sing a Song of Sixpence” Lyrics

Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.

When the pie was opened,
The birds began to sing;
Wasn’t that a dainty dish,
To set before the king?

The king was in his counting house,
Counting out his money;
The queen was in the parlour,
Eating bread and honey.

The maid was in the garden,
Hanging out the clothes;
When down came a blackbird
And pecked off her nose.

Alternate version of the last rhyme:

They sent for the king’s doctor,
who sewed it on again;
He sewed it on so neatly,
the seam was never seen.

or:

There was such a commotion,
that little Jenny wren;
Flew down into the garden,
and put it back again.

Comments are closed.