‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’ is one of the most popular nursery rhymes. This is due mostly to its straightforward, rhyming lyrics, which speak to perseverance through language a child can understand. It also has to do with the interactive nature of the song. Singers can sit in front of one another and pretend to row their own boat as they sing along.
The most common lyrics are as follows:
Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.
The repetition in the third line, as well as the rhyme between “steam” and “dream” make the lines pleasurable to read or sing out loud. This is a feature of all the most popular nursery rhymes.
Origins of Row, Row, Row Your Boat
The song was first published in 1852, or at least that’s the earliest record of the song in print. At that time the lyrics were quite similar to those we know today, but the tune was very different. It wasn’t until 1881 that the ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’ tune that is very well-known today, was recorded. This information comes from the Franklin Square Song Collection, but, the publication does not state explicitly who composed this new tune for the song.
The format of this nursery rhyme is interesting, as it can be separated into four vocal parts, and sung as a round. The lyrics for all four parts are the same, but they come in a different points. The alto part begins singing when the soprano part gets to the second line of the song. And so on and so forth until only the base is left singing “Life is but a dream” at the end.
In popular culture the song is often adapted and altered to fit humorous situations. This can be seen in Bean, featuring Rowan Atkinson as well as in Sesame Street.