Hickory, dickory, dock

‘Hickory, dickory, dock’ is a well-loved and incredibly popular nursery rhyme that dates to the 18th century. It is quite short, at only five lines, and describes a mouse running up a clock.

hickory, dickory, dock visual representation

Hickory, dickory, dock‘ uses a few interesting literary devices and a memorable premise to make it easy to remember and recite. The lines rhyme perfectly, something that’s quite common to nursery rhymes. Since it was first published in 1744, there have been numerous variations of ‘Hickory, dikory, dock’ recorded. It has also inspired illustrations and children’s books.

Hickory, dickory, dock nursery rhyme


Read Hickory, dickory, dock,

Hickory, dickory, dock,

The mouse ran up the clock;

The clock struck one,

And down he run,

Hickory, dickory, dock.


Summary

‘Hickory, dickory, dock’ is a short nursery rhyme about a mouse who runs up a clock. It uses interesting nonsense language.

The first and last lines of this poem are the same. This is an example of a refrain, one that allows the reader to start the poem over from the beginning if they want to. The lines in between describe a mouse running up the clock and down again once it strikes one. Like most nursery rhymes, there are a couple of variations. But, they all follow this same premise. There are very few details in the song, allowing readers to make up whatever story they want to go along with it.

Structure and Form

‘Hickory, dickory, dock’ is a short, five-line nursery rhyme that is contained within a single stanza of text. There are several iterations of this rhyme, but the most common is used below. In this particular version, the first, second, and fifth lines rhyme, as do the third and fourth. This is a common feature in nursery rhymes. More rhymes usually make the poem more interesting to readers, especially the young readers. Or for those who are hearing the lines read out loud. Rhymes also make these poems easier to remember and can help solidify them within the history of this kind of song/poem.

Literary Devices

Throughout ‘Hickory, dickory, dock,’ readers can find several examples of literary devices, despite their brevity. These include but are not limited to:

  • Repetition: can be seen when the poet repeats the same words, phrases, images, ideas, or structures. For example, the use of “clock” more than once as well as the use of a refrain.
  • Alliteration: occurs when the writer repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “dickory” and “dock” or “down” and “dock.”
  • Refrain: occurs when the poet repeats the same phrase more than once. This occurs only when the entire phrase is repeated exactly. For example, the title of the rhyme “Hickory, dickory, dock” appears at the beginning and the end of this short rhyme. It can, in instances like this, create a circular verse, allowing the singer or reader to start over from the beginning again.


Detailed Analysis

Lines 1-2

Hickory, dickory, dock,

The mouse ran up the clock;

In the first two lines of ‘Hickory, dickory, dock,’ the speaker begins by using the line that was later used as the title. This is often the case with nursery rhymes and some of the best-known, older rhymes in existence today. The line is a great example of internal rhyme, seen through the use of the same consonant sounds.

The first line is also a good example of how nonsense language is used in poetry and children’s songs. The words “hickory and dickory” don’t make sense together, but they sound interesting and may, for some readers, mimic the sound of the mouse climbing the clock. Plus, it allows the word “clock” to connect back to the first line, again through similar consonant sounds.

The reader is immediately thrust into the action with this nursery rhyme, an example of in medias res. It’s unclear why the mouse is running up the clock or even whether the mouse is inside or outside the structure. Very few details are provided, but that doesn’t hurt the impact of the song at all.

Lines 3-5

The clock struck one,

And down he run,

Hickory, dickory, dock.

In the next line, the clock strikes “one.” This means that the bell is going to toll inside the clock. This is perhaps what scares the mouse, sending him back down again. Or, an alternative interpretation is that the mouse went up the clock for the purpose of hearing the clock or even triggering it to strike at one o’clock.

Either way, once the clock strikes, the mouse runs back down again. It’s after this that the refrain is repeated. A reader might add on another repetition of the same lines. It’s also not unusual to find repeated lines within nursery rhymes. It’s something that makes them easy to remember and even easier to read for children.

FAQs

What is the tone of ‘Hickory, dickory, dock?’

The tone is upbeat. The speaker is describing simple events and creating a curious and excited mood for the reader. Since the rhyme is so short, there are few details to create a complex tone, mood, or atmosphere.

What is the purpose of ‘Hickory, dickory, dock?’

Today, the main purpose of this rhyme is to entertain. It should keep a child’s attention and perhaps inspire them to sing along. Its original purpose may be entirely lost to time.

How is nonsense language used in ‘Hickory, dickory, dock?’

The phrase “Hickory, dickory, dock” is itself an example of nonsense language. It doesn’t mean anything. The words are made up and only used because they sound interesting together.

What is the real meaning of ‘Hickory, dickory, dock?’

Usually, the rhyme is cited as a “counting out” song. This refers to a way of counting people until one is selected. For example, “eeny, meeny, miny, moe.” For others, it dates back to certain slang words in the English countryside or even refers explicitly to a clock in Exeter Cathedral.

How old is ‘Hickory, dickory, dock?’

The rhyme dates back to the 18th century. It was first recorded, along with many other well-known rhymes in Tommy Thumb, in his Pretty Song Book collection in 1744. There are a few other versions of the song, including one published in 1765 under the name ‘Dickery Dock.


Similar Poems

Readers who enjoyed ‘Hickory, dickory, dock’ should also consider reading some related nursery rhymes. For example.

  • There was a crooked man’ – is a short, upbeat poem that uses repetition to speak on a series of “crooked” sights.
  • There was an old lady who swallowed a fly’ – is a funny children’s rhyme. It describes an old lady who swallows everything from a fly to a cat to a horse.
  • Solomon Grundy’ – is an entertaining nursery rhyme that was used to teach children the days of the week.
  • Sing a song of sixpence’ – describes a pie baked with 24 blackbirds and set “before the king.”
  • Row, row, row your boat’ – a well-loved nursery rhyme that uses a great deal of repetition to describe rowing a boat.

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hickory, dickory, dock visual representation
About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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