It’s Raining It’s Pouring History


It’s raining it’s pouring the old man is snoring.
He bumped his head when he went to bed and he couldn’t get up in the morning.

We sing this gaily to our little ones when it’s raining, and it certainly is a bright little tune. Like a lot of nursery songs, we sing it without thinking, and then wonder what on earth this actually was talking about!

History of the Rhyme

All Nursery Rhymes points to its origins in the United States as being quite modern. The song’s first couplet was published in a book titled The Little Mother Goose, published in 1912. An anthropologist and student of folklore, Herbert Halpert, made the first known audio recording of it in 1939. Another version was copyrighted by Freda Selicoff in 1944.

Nothing implies, though, that the song’ origins aren’t much earlier. Any collection of Mother Goose rhymes draws heavily upon rhymes that originated as early as the years of the Black Plague in England. Again, we read and sing them cheerily with our preschool children without thinking about their sometimes macabre words. Babies fall out of their cradles, London Bridge falls down and a lady gets locked up as a result, Three Blind Mice get their tails cut off; the list goes on and on. It’s Raining It’s Pouring seems to belong to that era just because its lyrics have a similar mournful ending, but there’s no concrete evidence of the lyrics in print before that 1909 appearance.

What Do the Lyrics Mean?

Most sources attribute a very straightforward meaning to the lyrics. They seem to recount a tale about an old man who presumably slipped somehow on a seriously rainy day and in doing so injured his head. He wisely went to bed to speed healing. There are several theories as to whether he only couldn’t get up the next day because of a horrible headache or whether he was, in fact, dead.

Whatever the effect, though, head injuries are quite common in old nursery rhymes. Some, like Jack’s after his and Jill’s adventure while fetching water, seem to have been treatable. Death, though, was unfortunately not an uncommon feature of the old rhymes, though we would probably keep these references out of songs for kids today.

Is There an Historical Reference for this Rhyme?

Madeleine, at Quotev, says this poem may have described a battle between Oliver Cromwell‘s army and some brave Irish fighters. Because this skirmish took place, she says, during the Little Ice Age, the weather was probably rainy. Going further, she suggests that “going to bed” described burial, and “couldn’t get up in the morning” refers to the sadness of their families, who hoped for their return.