The Old Woman in a Basket


Version 1

There was an old woman tossed up in a basket
Seventy times as high as the moon;
Where she was going I could not but ask it,
For in her hand she carried a broom.

“Old woman, old woman, old woman,” said I,
“O whither, o whither, o whither so high?”
“To sweep up the cobwebs from the sky,
And I’ll be with you by and by!”

Source: The Little Mother Goose (1918)

Version 2

There was an old woman tossed up in a basket,
Seventeen times as high as the moon;
Where she was going I couldn’t but ask it,
For in her hand she carried a broom.
Old woman, old woman, old woman, quoth I,
Where are you going to up so high?
To brush the cobwebs off the sky!
May I go with you?
Aye, by-and-by.

Source: The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (1997)


Version 3

There was a wee wifie row’t up in a blanket,
Nineteen times as hie as the moon;
And what did she there I canna declare,
For in her oxter she bure the sun.
Wee wifie, wee wifie, wee wifie, quo’ I,
Oh, what are ye doin’ up there sae hie?
I’m blawin the cauld cluds out o’ the lift:
Weel dune, weel dune, wee wifie! quo’ I’

Source: Chambers, The Popular Rhymes of Scotland (1842)



Historical Background

Dr. E. F. Rimbault, editor of “Nursery Rhymes” published in 1846, claims that “The Old Woman in a Basket” alludes to James II, the last Catholic monarch to rule over England, Scotland, and Ireland. His claim was possibly influenced by the fact that the rhyme’s associated tune is “Lilliburlero,” which “danced James II out of three kingdoms.” The song “Lilliburlero” mocks Irish Catholic Jacobite values. Another theory, published in “Mother Goose’s Melody,” (1765) states that the rhyme was written about Henry V by parties opposed to his war in France.

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