Appalachia Rhymes

Little Boy Blue

Little boy blue

Little boy blue,
Come blow your horn,
The sheep’s in the meadow,
The cow’s in the corn.
But where is the boy
Who looks after the sheep?
Under the haystack,
Fast asleep,
Will you wake him?
No, not I,
For if I do
He’s sure to cry.

One of our uncles used to say this rhyme to Paul when he was young. So when I hear it I think of the uncle and of Paul with a shock of blond hair falling into his big brown eyes.

The rhyme could be used to describe anyone who isn’t doing their job or that has left their watch unattended. According to the book Heavy Words Lightly Thrown The Reason Behind The Rhyme written by Christ Roberts, the rhyme details Charles II and the good life he lead during his exile from Britain. While Charles II was ‘under the haystack’ troubles ‘sheep in the meadow and cows in the corn’ were plaguing his country.

From the book:

“The rhyme is a lament by the remaining Royalists that the country was in disarray, lacking a king to lead it (no Leviathan figure, for those familiar with Hobbe’s philosophy). Even these Cavaliers, however are critical of Charles, as the final lines contain a suggestion that he might lack a certain moral fiber and should be more vigorous in reclaiming the throne.”

Do you remember Little Boy Blue?


*Source: Roberts, Chris. Heavy words lightly thrown: the reason behind the rhyme. Large print ed. Waterville, Me.: Thorndike Press, 2006. Print.


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  • Reply
    June 28, 2014 at 7:55 am

    Hadn’t thought much about the boy’s dress in the picture; but after reading Ed’s comment, recalled a picture of my father-in-law (born in 1906 – he was in his forties when my husband was born)in an even frillier outfit, with long curly locks, no less! He was around 3 and the picture was taken of him in an outfit he was to wear as ringbearer in a wedding. They had not cut his hair at the bride’s request. Little Boy Blue’s hair is short in [email protected]!

  • Reply
    June 27, 2014 at 11:51 pm

    Reading this, I was reminded of a nursery rhyme one of us was reading from one of those Little Golden Books to our youngest sister as children. It was called Ding Dong Dell and went:
    “Ding, dong, bell,
    Pussy’s in the well.
    Who put her in?
    Little Johnny Flynn.
    Who pulled her out?
    Little Tommy Stout.
    What a naughty boy was that,
    To try to drown poor pussy cat,
    Who ne’er did him any harm,
    But killed all the mice in the farmer’s barn.”
    Anyway, when we went to read it, it went like this,
    “Ding Dong Dell
    Kitty in the well
    Who put her in”
    Whereupon our youngest sister said, “Not me!” and we laughed and laughed.
    Ahhh, memories. I wonder if any of our sisters remember that. LOL
    God bless.

  • Reply
    jane bolden
    June 27, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    Who knew? One of my favorites!

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    June 27, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    I thought “Little Boy Blue” was just a
    nursery rhyme, never knew it had a
    political impact. So, I guess folks were
    disgusted with their government back
    then too…Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 27, 2014 at 11:33 am

    i’d drank tew uf i had two ware a frilly sssmock lik that.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 27, 2014 at 11:20 am

    or maybe that isn’t a tooting horn but a drinking horn and Little Boy Blue is about to wake up with a nasty headache.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 27, 2014 at 11:15 am

    Looking at the picture I can only conclude that Blue’s momma wanted a girl. Look at how she dressed him! Lace on his chest and sleeves! Look at his long curly blonde locks and pouty lips. The sheep are interested too. One has sneaked up for a closer look. The cow could care less.
    The only saving grace I can envision would be that Little Boy Blue is sick in bed and Little Girl Pink had to stand his watch. She is hiding behind the haystack because the animals have been laughing at her.

  • Reply
    June 27, 2014 at 9:06 am

    I know the rhyme well. As usual, though, I learn a lot from your research. Who would have thought that all these verses we considered children’s rhymes would actually be political editorials!
    Unfortunately, I associate it with the little boy Mom and Dad lost about 2 years before I was born. It always made Mom cry. She also had sheet music about a little boy “lost” or “blue” (not the words of ‘that’ rhyme) – a very sad song – especially when I understood why she had the music. These days the child might have lived but not so in the 1940s.
    Mom had been hoeing trees, somehow fell on the hoe handle and began to bleed. By the time the doctor arrived, the baby (Mom was 7 or 8 months along) was to be stillborn.
    Ironically, my husband was born around the due date for that little boy.
    Funny the directions our minds take us with a seemingly simple stimulus.

  • Reply
    Richard Beauchamp
    June 27, 2014 at 9:05 am

    That must really be his picture because that must really be him because that is the same picture I remember seeing when i was a kid 70 years ago. This was one of my favorite nursery rhymes when I was little.

  • Reply
    Gina S
    June 27, 2014 at 8:56 am

    Even after learning this from Mama and telling it to my children, I never explored its origin. Thanks for sharing the hidden past of nursery rhymes. I wonder what the authors of these rhymes would think of usage down through the years.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 27, 2014 at 7:30 am

    Little boy blue! Who would have thought a simple “children” rhyme could have such a serious meaning behind it. It’s really not fair that the kids of this world be the recipients of such heavy and negative stuff.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    June 27, 2014 at 7:11 am

    I am amazed by the fact that most nursery rhymes are political in nature. Very interesting Tipper, thanks

  • Reply
    Garry Ballard
    June 27, 2014 at 4:27 am

    Apparently when I was a little feller that used to be my favourite rhyme so my mother used to say

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