Rhyme time, happy time?

Exploring the ward

"Wandering the ward", picture from my photofolio on Flickr. More here.

Happiness is a warm gun.

I once wrote an article about France's renewed passion for melancholy. Centuries after Baudelaire started to praise Spleen as an Ideal, sadness was the new high again in the Hexagon. Ironically, I entitled that blog post Shinny Happy People as I dessicated the influence of that low mood across poetry, art, advertising and music.

Personally, even if my passport states that I am French, I am proud to say that I am everything but melancholic. On the contrary, I am quite a positive guy... And even more since a little one joined the family. However a baby also implies responsibilities. Soon enough you have to provide him with some sort of education and the question is whether, as a French immigrant, you want to introduce your heir to the local or French education.

Because of the above-mentioned trend back home, we were tempted to blend in the indigenous customs and to go for a more positive attitude... Yet that was before we started listening properly to the rhymes that were sung all around him.

Happily ever after.

You would assume that children stories are all rosy and happy, but if you listen carefully it is not that obvious. Let me take a few example to illustrate my assertion. Do you know the "
ring around the roses" song? Well, it is nothing but the story of how plague wiped off large parts of the London population who after coughing they "all fell down", dead... Not very positive. One off you may object, but that is not the case. Let me expand with another very famous nursery rhyme.

The English version reads: "Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, life is but a dream". Note how the story concludes on a realistic letdown: "life is but a dream", meaning, boy enjoy it for now, but beware of the rapids that will shake your skiff soon enough.

The same song in French reads: "Petit bateau, p'tit bateau descend la rivière. Petit bateau, p'tit bateau ira jusqu'à la mer". This would translate into "little boat, l'ttle boat goes down river. Little boat, l'ttle boat will reach the sea". Interestingly no anticlimax in the French version which on the contrary delivers a more positive conclusion to this analogy. In the end, life is a blossoming achievement: you reach the sea and its endless possibilities.

But maybe it is simply me... I may have been contaminated by the French Sadness Syndrome and consequently start to see evil everywhere. So tell me which is your favourite rhyme, and what is its positive message conveyed by these apparently fatuous lyrics. I am keen to learn and in turn teach my son. After all, as George Santayana (1863-1952) coined it once, "Knowledge of what is possible is the beginning of happiness."

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