When this poem was first written and read aloud, the letters “I” and “J” as well as “U” and “V” were not differentiated from one another. In later versions of the poem, the other letters (“I” and “U”) and their lines were added to the poem. Readers might also find versions in which different phrases are used. Such as the following opening lines of ‘A Was an Apple Pie’:
Says A, give me a good large slice,
Says B, a little bit, but nice,
Says C, cut me a piece of crust, Take it,
says D, it’s dry as dust,
The poem continues on in this way, using “Says” and other directional words. Usually, when poems evolve in this way, the original (seen below) falls out of circulation. Such was not the case with this poem. Instead, the older version continues to be printed.
Explore A Was an Apple Pie
‘A Was an Apple Pie’ is a children’s nursery rhyme. It is meant to help young readers understand the alphabet and remember each letter.
The poem starts with the statement that “A was an apple pie,” an example of a metaphor. The following lines note what each letter of the alphabet would like to do to or with the pie. This includes jumping, cutting, fighting for it, mourning for it, and more. The poem continues in this way until the final three letters of the alphabet. The writer grouped them together and noted that these three wanted “a piece in hand.” Additionally, the ampersand that is sung between “Y” and “Z” helps to create a perfect rhyme at the end of the piece.
Structure and Form
‘A Was an Apple Pie’ is a twenty-five-line children’s nursery rhyme. It can appear in different forms, sometimes with an extended ending. In this version, the lines are all quite short. The first line ends with “pie,” and every other line, except for the final two, ends with “it.” This is something that makes the poem quite easy to remember and creates an interesting rhythm. This kind of technique is not uncommon in children’s poetry. Often, these poems are quite straightforward.
Throughout ‘A Was an Apple Pie,’ the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Epistrophe: the repetition of the same word or phrase at the end of multiple lines. For example, “it” ends lines two through twenty-three.
- Parallelism: occurs when the poet uses the same structure in multiple lines. By starting with a letter and ending with “it” in most lines, the author uses parallelism throughout the poem.
- Personification: can be seen when the poet imbues a non-human character, object, or force with human characteristics. This is used throughout the poem as the speaker discusses the letters of the alphabet.
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. In this case, the first two words of every line, except lines one, twenty-four, and twenty-five, repeats the same sounds at the beginning. Some good examples are “F fought” and “J jumped.”
A was an apple pie
B bit it,
C cut it,
D dealt it,
E eat it,
F fought for it,
G got it,
H had it,
I inspected it,
J jumped for it,
K kept it,
L longed for it,
M mourned for it,
In the first lines of ‘A Was an Apple Pie,’ the speaker begins with the line that was later used as the title. The speaker notes that “A was an apple pie” and then goes on to list out what every letter of the alphabet does or wants to do. The poem uses repetition, seen through the use of the same letter at the beginning of lines and starting the second word of every line. For example, the letter “B bit” the pie and the letter “G got” the pie. This goes on throughout these lines with “J” jumping, “M” mourning,” “L” longing, and so on. Some of these action words make sense with the pie, while others don’t. But, the point is to create a song that helps young singers and readers remember the alphabet.
N nodded at it,
O opened it,
P peeped in it,
Q quartered it,
R ran for it,
S stole it,
T took it,
U upset it,
V viewed it,
W wanted it,
X, Y, Z and ampersand
All wished for a piece in hand.
In the next lines, the alphabet story continues. The second half of the alphabet is described with creative decisions around which words to use to describe the letters. For example, “W wanted” the pie and “Q quartered” the pie. When the poem is coming to a close, the speaker appears unable to find words for “X, Y, Z.” So, they bring the three into the same line and also reference the “ampersand,” or the “&” that often appears between “Y” and “Z” when the song is sung out loud. For example, “QRSTUVWXY & Z.” The final three letters and the ampersand all “wished for a piece in hand.” The word “hand” is a perfect rhyme with “ampersand,” the only example of this kind of rhyme in the poem.
The purpose is to provide readers, who are usually young children, with a new way to understand and remember the alphabet. The poem is also supposed to entertain. It’s easy to imagine young readers laughing as they speed through the lines of this poem, having memorized all of it.
Personification is used in almost every line as the poet references what each letter wants to do to “A,” an apple pie. This includes opening it, wishing for a piece in hand, running for it, peeping into it, and fighting for it.
The speaker in this poem is unknown. It’s unimportant who is saying these lines, especially when considered alongside the real educational purpose of the poem. Whoever is speaking, though, is creative.
The poem dates back to the 17th century. The first mention of the poem was in 1671. It was first in print in 1742 in Child’s New Plaything: being a spelling-book intended to make the learning to read a diversion instead of a task and then later appeared in Tom Thumb’s Playbook to teach children their letters as soon as they can speak, being a new and pleasant method to allure little ones in the first principles of learning.
Readers who enjoyed ‘A Was an Apple Pie’ should also consider reading some related nursery rhymes. For example:
- ‘Goosey goose gander’ – details a man tossing another older man down a flight of stairs.
- ‘Animal Farm’ – describes the actions of a monkey and an elephant, which ends with a cliffhanger.
- ‘As I Was Going’ – was first recorded in the 1840s. But, it likely dates to an early decade. It’s thought that this nursery rhyme was likely shared through street cries or chants.