‘Animal Fair’ is a humorous nursery rhyme that dates back to at least 1898, if not longer. Like most nursery rhymes, it does not have a clear origin. This is far from unusual as these songs often evolved over time. The earliest versions may diverge from the contemporary in several important ways. When singing this song, groups often perform it in a round. This means that as it ends, it starts over again with different people singing different lines.
Animal Fair Nursery RhymeI went to the animal fair,The birds and the beasts were there;The big baboon by the light of the moonWas combing his auburn hair.The monkey he got drunkAnd sat on the elephant's trunk,The elephant sneezed and went down on his kneesAnd what become of the monk?
Explore Animal Fair
The narrator describes going to an animal fair and seeing two animals there. These are only two among the many birds and beasts on display. There is a monkey in most versions; sometimes, a skunk or raccoon replaces it. He gets drunk, sits on the elephant’s trunk, and then is blown off when the latter sneezes. There are few details about this poem, but alternative versions do provide more child-friendly lines, removing the word “drunk” and its implications.
I went to the animal fair,
The birds and the beasts were there;
The big baboon by the light of the moon
Was combing his auburn hair.
In the first lines of this nursery rhyme, the first-person narrator describes how they went to the “animal fair.” This is an interesting choice of words. It’s not a fair or a zoo but some combination of them both. As the lines progress, it becomes clear that this place plays host to some unusual animals that engage in behavior that’s not animal-like. There are “birds and beasts” there, the speaker adds. The use of these two “b” words helps create an additional feeling of rhythm, adding to the reader’s enjoyment of the poem’s sounds. The “b” words continue with “big baboon” in the third line.
The baboon is described as combing his “auburn hair.” The use of the word “combing” makes the baboon seem quite human. This is a purposeful choice and is continued throughout the next lines.
The monkey he got drunk
And sat on the elephant’s trunk,
The elephant sneezed and went down on his knees
And what become of the monk?
The monkey “sat on the elephant’s trunk” after getting drunk, the speaker adds. This is a humorous image, one that should entertain anyone reading or hearing the poem. However, it is interesting to note that the word “drunk” appears in a children’s rhyme. Other versions have alternative lyrics that make this a bit more kid-friendly. After the elephant sneezes, at the climax of the poem, something happens to the “monk.” Rather than using “monkey,” the writer used “monk.” This allows the last line to rhyme with the previous “drunk” and “trunk.”
In some other versions of the poem, readers can find “the little raccoon” rather than a baboon, and “got drunk” is replaced with “fell out of his bunk’ or “bumped the skunk.” There are also versions that use lines like “You should have seen the monk” and “You out to have seen the monk.”
Structure and Form
‘Animal Fair’ is an eight-line poem that is usually contained within a single stanza of text. The nursery rhyme, like most others, can be found in different versions than the one used below. But, the below version is one of the most common. It uses a rhyme scheme of AABACCDC. The lines are around the same length but not so similar to make the song feel overly organized.
Throughout ‘Animal Fair,’ there are a few interesting literary devices to consider. These include but are not limited to:
- Anaphora: can be seen when the same word or words begin multiple lines. For example, “The,” which starts lines two, three, five, and seven. This is especially important when the poem is as short as this one is.
- Personification: occurs when the writer imbues non-human creatures, objects, or forces with human features. For example, describing the baboon combing his hair and the monkey getting drunk.
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses especially vibrant descriptions. For example, “The big baboon by the light of the moon / Was combing his auburn hair.”
- Alliteration: occurs when the writer uses the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “big baboon” in line three and “birds” and “beasts” in line two.
- Enjambment: occurs when the writer cuts off a line before its natural stopping point—for example, the transition between lines three and four as well as five and six.
- Cliffhanger: there is also a good example of a cliffhanger in this poem. Because the piece ends with a question, readers are left without a resolution. There’s no way to know for sure what happened to the monkey.
The tone is amused. The speaker is relaying events he saw occur at an animal fair and wondering what happened to a monkey who sat on an elephant’s trunk. This humorous series of events should amuse readers as well.
The purpose of this nursery rhyme is, like most nursery rhymes, to entertain. Readers should take pleasure from the nonsensical events, and those who sing, or hear the song sung, should as well. These lines are also quite easy to remember and recite, a benefit for those wanting to teach them.
The mood is uplifting and curious. Young readers might contemplate what really did happen “to the monk” at the end of the poem. They should also take pleasure in the funny images and circumstances.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Animal Fair’ should also consider reading some related nursery rhymes. For example:
- ‘Hey, diddle diddle’ – may be connected to constellations, such as Taurus and Canis Minor, or it could describe the wives of King Henry VIII.
- ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’ – is a well-known nursery rhyme that has several possible sources of inspiration, including the Great Fire of 1666.
- ‘Little Bo-Peep’ – is a children’s nursery rhyme that tells the story of Bo-Peep, a shepherdess, a flock of lost sheep, and their missing tails.
- ‘Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross’ – describes a “fine lady” or an “old woman” riding a “cock horse.”