Humpty Dumpty

The name “Humpty Dumpty” is familiar to lovers of both literature and nursery rhymes. The character is considered to be one of the best-known in the English-speaking world. Generally, he is depicted as an egg. He usually has a face, arms and legs and is seen wearing different pieces of clothing. The first musical, recorded versions of the rhyme appeared in the late 1800s. The tune can be found in its original form and James William Elliotts National Nursery Rhymes and Nursery Songs. Aside from these dates and locations, the origins of this song are unclear.

 

Popularization

The song became popular in the United States in the mid-1800s. One of the most prominent literary works featuring the egg is Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, published in 1872.

 

Analysis of Humpty Dumpty

The rhyme itself is fairly straightforward. It is written in trochaic meter. This means that the stress is on the first syllable rather than the second, as it would be if the lines were iambs. The lines follow a very straightforward, and common, pattern of rhyme. They conform to the scheme: AABB.  

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men

Couldn’t put Humpty together again

Although not considered very often today, the words “Humpty Dumpty” do you have a particular meaning. It is a reference to a kind of brandy which is boiled with ale. Scholars have suggested that this meaning of the words was combined with a more intuitive meaning, that of a clumsy person. These two things together make sense. And, when combined with an egg make for a humorous rhyme. 

 

Origins of Humpty Dumpty

The rhyme was first published in Juvenile Amusements in 1797. It made use of lyrics which are similar to those known today, but with a few distinct differences.

A number of other publications containing the poem make use of alterations, especially in the last line. Some collections such as James Orchid Halliwell’s, published the poem as: 

Humpty Dumpty lay in a beck.

With all his sinews around his neck;

Forty Doctors and forty wrights

Couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty to rights!

Others, such as a version in Grammar Gurton’s Garland reads : 

Humpty Dumpty sate on a wall,

Humpti Dumpti had a great fall;

Threescore men and threescore more,

Cannot place Humpty dumpty as he was before

Cultural references

 

Popular Culture

The number of works of popular culture that feature Humpty Dumpty are a testament to the character’s and the rhyme’s popularity. Most prominently, as mentioned above, the character features and Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. Within this text Alice and Humpty Dumpty discuss his shape, and egg, and the fact that although he looks like a egg he is not one. 

The character can also be seen in other literary works such as the Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse by Robert Rankin and Jasper Fforde’s novels.

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  • Avatar Shis T DOS-TALL-ICK says:

    This is great! It was fantastically written and gave an excellent overview on the origins of a poems that most people “say by heart” but have no idea what it means, where it came from or why it exists to begin with. Thank you 🙏 for taking the time to write this Ms. Baldwin!

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Thank you for your kind words. I am also finding this series on nursery rhymes fascinating!

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