"Ring around the Rosy
Pocket full of Posy
We all Fall Down"
You probably have a vision of children holding hands in a circle, rotating slowly while singing the song, then collapsing in a giggling heap at its conclusion.
Just another innocent and meaningless rhyme? It depends on your definition of innocence, for this song was born during a time so terrible it constituted a loss of innocence for the whole of Europe.
It is quite old... in fact it is more than five centuries old. But even though it is ancient, the origin of this song can be pinpointed very precisely within a 3 year period: 1347 - 1350.
Between these three years, fully one third of Europe's population is estimated to have perished in what was called
The Black Plague
Children are resilient and ever adaptable. Imagine the children of the day, coping with the horror... and you can imagine the games they would play...
Ring around the Rosy
One of the first visible signs of infection were red rings surrounding a rosy bump, all over the victim's body.
Pocket full of Posy
A common belief of the time was that the plague was borne on "foul air." The rationale was that people could protect themselves from the bad air by keeping their local air smelling sweet. That, and it also helped them deal with the smell of death...
On the other hand, another sign of infection was the foul stench that would begin to emanate from the victim's body as their lymph system began filling with blood. Those still mobile endeavored to mask their stench and avoid detection by carrying flowers on their person.
In the terminal phases of the disease, victims would be hemorrhaging internally, sometimes triggering sneezing as it irritated the breathing passages. "Ashes" is a child's approximation of a paroxysm of sneezing. In this weakened state, a victim could, and often did, sneeze their lungs out. Messy...
We all Fall Down
By now, this one should need little explanation...
But that was a long time ago... right? We don't see plagues anymore, do we?
Have you heard about the mosquito-borne encephalitis virus...?
... be careful out there...