Mary Mary Quite Contrary
If you think this little ditty is actually about gardening, you'd be dead wrong - as dead as the Protestant Queen Mary I, executed for her attempt to restore Catholicism as the national religion of England. The song is believed to be a clever jab at "Bloody Mary," with the "garden growing" bit alluding to the bodies she planted in the cemetery, the "silver bells and cockle shells" referring to torture devices, and the pretty maids all in a row symbolizing people lined up for the guillotine.
Whatever the origins of this song, the lyrics alone are quite terrifying when you stop and think about them:
"Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetop,
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall,
And down will come baby, cradle and all."
Basically, there's a baby trapped in a tree, getting rocked in a cradle by a violent wind. The gusts are so strong, the tree branch from which the baby is hanging snaps in two, plummeting the baby to the ground. If the child isn't killed, it's at least going to need immediate medical attention.
And this song is sung to children as a lullaby. Sweet dreams, kiddo! Naturally, The Simpsons parodied "Rock-A-Bye Baby"'s horrid implications in their very first short on The Tracy Ullman Show.
Take a look at the lyrics to this one:
"Peter, Peter pumpkin eater,
Had a wife but couldn't keep her;
He put her in a pumpkin shell
And there he kept her very well.
Peter, Peter pumpkin eater,
Had another and didn't love her;
Peter learned to read and spell,
And then he loved her very well."
Okay, so it's established that Peter likes to eat pumpkins, right? So, his wife wants to leave him. Okay. What does he do? He puts her in a pumpkin shell, where he keeps her quite well. Does this mean he eats her?Even if the rhyme doesn't suggest cannibalism, it does state that Peter imprisons his wife when she attempts to get away from him (probably because he's spending all their money on pumpkins). That's pretty messed up.
There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe
Don't buy into any sanitized versions of this rhyme. The original words are as follows:
"There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children, she didn't know what to do;
So she gave them some broth without any bread;
And she whipped them all soundly and sent them to bed."