A very favorite class of rhymes with children, though the solutions are

often most difficult to guess. Nursery riddle-rhymes are extremely

numerous, and a volume might be filled with them without much

difficulty. Many of the most common ones are found in manuscript

collections of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

I'm in every one's way,

But no one I stop;

My four horns every day

In every way play,

And my head is nailed on at the top!

--A turnstile.

There was a king met a king

In a straight lane;

Says the king to the king,

Where have you been?

I've been in the wood,

Hunting the doe:

Pray lend me your dog,

That I may do so.

Call him, call him!

What must I call him?

Call him as you and I,

We've done both.

--The dog's name was Been, and the name of the persons who met each

other was King. This riddle was obtained recently from oral tradition. I

observe, however, a version of it in MS. Harl. 1962, of the seventeenth


The cuckoo and the gowk,

The laverock and the lark,

The twire-snipe, the weather-bleak;

How many birds is that?

--Three, for the second name in each line is a synonyme. The cuckoo is

called a gowk in the North of England; the lark, a laverock; and the

twire-snipe and weather-bleak, or weather-bleater, are the same birds.


With a round black body!

Three feet and a wooden hat;

What's that?

--An iron pot. In the country, an iron pot with three legs, and a wooden

cover, the latter raised or put on by means of a peg at the top, is used

for suspending over a fire, or to place on the hearth with a wood fire.

Riddle me, riddle me, what is that

Over the head and under the hat?

--Hair. From Kent.

The fiddler and his wife,

The piper and his mother,

Ate three half-cakes, three whole cakes,

And three quarters of another.

How much did each get?

--The fiddler's wife was the piper's mother. Each one therefore got 1/2

+ 1 + 1/4 or 1-3/4.

There was a little green house,

And in the little green house

There was a little brown house,

And in the little brown house

There was a little yellow house,

And in the little yellow house

There was a little white house,

And in the little white house

There was a little heart.

--A walnut.

A flock of white sheep

On a red hill;

Here they go, there they go,

Now they stand still!

--The teeth and gums.

Old Father Greybeard,

Without tooth or tongue,

If you'll give me your finger,

I'll give you my thumb.

--Greybeard, says Moor, Suffolk Words, p. 155, was the appropriate name

for a fine large handsome stone bottle, holding perhaps three or four,

or more gallons, having its handle terminating in a venerable Druidic

face. This riddle appears to be alluded to in MS. Harl. 7316, p. 61:

I'm a dull senseless blockhead, 'tis true, when I'm young,

And like old grandsire Greyberd without tooth or tongue,

But by the kind help and assistance of arts

I sometimes attain to politeness of parts:

What God never sees,

What the king seldom sees;

What we see every day:

Read my riddle,--I pray.

--An equal. This riddle is well known in Sweden. The following version

was given me by Mr. Stephens:

Jag ser det dagligen;

Kungen ser det saellan;

Gud ser det aldrig.

"I see it daily;

The king sees it seldom;

God sees it never."

As white as milk,

And not milk;

As green as grass,

And not grass;

As red as blood,

And not blood;

As black as soot,

And not soot!

--A bramble-blossom.

The land was white,

The seed was black;

It'll take a good scholar

To riddle me that.

--Paper and writing.

As high as a castle,

As weak as a wastle;

And all the king's horses

Cannot pull it down.

--Smoke. A wastle is a North country term for a twig or withy, possibly

connected with A. S. waedl.

I've seen you where you never was,

And where you ne'er will be;

And yet you in that very same place

May still be seen by me.

--The reflection of a face in a looking-glass.

Banks full, braes full,

Though ye gather all day,

Ye'll not gather your hands full.

--The mist. From Northumberland. Sometimes thus:

A hill full, a hole full,

Ye cannot catch a bowl full.

A young man and a young woman quarrelled, and the former, in his anger,


Three words I know to be true,

All which begin with W.

The young woman immediately guessed the enigma, and replied in a similar


I too know them,

And eke three which begin with M.

--Woman wants wit. Man much more.

The calf, the goose, the bee,

The world is ruled by these three.

--Parchment, pens, and wax.

A house full, a yard full,

And ye can't catch a bowl full.


As I was going o'er London bridge,

I heard something crack;

Not a man in all England

Can mend that!


I had a little sister,

They called her Pretty Peep;

She wades in the waters,

Deep, deep, deep!

She climbs up the mountains,

High, high, high;

My poor little sister,

She has but one eye.

--A star. This charming little riddle is always a great favorite with


As I was going o'er yon moor of moss,

I met a man on a gray horse;

He whipp'd and he wail'd,

I ask'd him what he ail'd;

He said he was going to his father's funeral,

Who died seven years before he was born!

--His father was a dyer.

As I look'd out o' my chamber window,

I heard something fall;

I sent my maid to pick it up.

But she couldn't pick it all.

--Snuff. From Yorkshire.

Black within, and red without,

Four corners round about.

--A chimney. From Yorkshire.

As I was going o'er London bridge,

I met a drove of guinea pigs;

They were nick'd and they were nack'd,

And they were all yellow back'd.

--A swarm of bees; not a very likely family to meet in that

neighbourhood, at least nowadays, but some of the authors of these poems

seem to have been continually traversing London bridge.

Higher than a house, higher than a tree;

Oh! whatever can that be?

--A star. From Yorkshire.

Which weighs heavier--

A stone of lead

Or a stone of feather?

--They both weigh alike.

Lilly low, lilly low, set up on an end,

See little baby go out at town end.

--A candle. Lillylow is a North country term for the flame of a candle.

Low, A.-S. lig, is universal.

At the end of my yard there is a vat,

Four-and-twenty ladies dancing in that:

Some in green gowns, and some with blue hat:

He is a wise man who can tell me that.

--A field of flax.

Jackatawad ran over the moor,

Never behind, but always before!

--The ignis fatuus, or Will o' the Wisp. Jackatawad is a provincial

term for this phenomenon.

Black'm, saut'm, rough'm, glower'm, saw,

Click'm, gatt'm, flaug'm into girnigaw.

--Eating a sloe. A North country riddle, given by Brockett. Girnigaw is

the cavity of the mouth.

There was a man rode through our town,

Gray Grizzle was his name;

His saddle-bow was gilt with gold;

Three times I've named his name.

--Gaffer Was. From Yorkshire.

There was a man went over the Wash,

Grizzle grey was his horse;

Bent was his saddle-bow:

I've told you his name three times,

And yet you don't know!

--The same as the last. From Norfolk.

I am become of flesh and blood,

As other creatures be;

Yet there's neither flesh nor blood

Doth remain in me.

I make kings that they fall out,

I make them agree;

And yet there's neither flesh nor blood

Doth remain in me.

--A pen. Riddles similar to this are current in most languages. Mr.

Stephens has kindly furnished me with the following one obtained in


Af koett och blod aer jag upprunnen,

Men ingen blod aer i mig funnen;

Manga herrar de mig baera,

Med hvassa knifvar de mig skaera.

Mangen har jag gifvit aera,

Mangen har jag tagit af,

Mangen har jag lagt i graf.

Of flesh and blood sprung am I ever;

But blood in me that find ye never.

Many great lords bear me proudly,

With sharp knives cutting me loudly.

Many I've graced right honorably:

Rich ones many I've humble made;

Many within their grave I've laid!

The pen has been a fertile subject for the modern riddle-writer. The

best production of the kind was printed a few months ago in the Times

newspaper, contributed by Miss Agnes Strickland.

Into my house came neighbour John,

With three legs and a wooden one;

If one be taken from the same,

Then just five there will remain.

--He had a IV legged stool with him, and taking away the left-hand

numeral, there remains V.

Link lank, on a bank,

Ten against four.

--A milkmaid.

Two legs sat upon three legs,

With four legs standing by;

Four then were drawn by ten:

Read my riddle ye can't,

However much ye try.

--An amplification of the above, the milkmaid of course sitting on a

three-legged stool.

Over the water,

And under the water,

And always with its head down!

--A nail in the bottom of a ship.

As straight as a maypole,

As little as a pin,

As bent as a bucker,

And as round as a ring.

I do not know the solution of this riddle. A bucker is a bent piece of

wood by which slaughtered sheep are hung up by their expanded hind legs,

before being cut out.

Hitty Pitty within the wall,

Hitty Pitty without the wall:

If you touch Hitty Pitty,

Hitty Pitty will bite you.

--A nettle. MS. Harl. 1962, xvii. cent.

The first letter of our fore-fadyr,

A worker of wax,

An I and an N;

The colour of an ass:

And what have you then?

--Abindon, or Abingdon, in Berks. An ancient rebus given in Lelandi

Itin. ed. 1744, ii. 136.

I saw a fight the other day;

A damsel did begin the fray.

She with her daily friend did meet,

Then standing in the open street;

She gave such hard and sturdy blows,

He bled ten gallons at the nose;

Yet neither seem to faint nor fall,

Nor gave her any abuse at all.

--A pump. MS. Harl. 1962, xvij. cent.

A water there is I must pass,

A broader water never was;

And yet of all waters I ever did see,

To pass over with less jeopardy.

--The dew. From the same MS.

There is a bird of great renown,

Useful in city and in town;

None work like unto him can do;

He's yellow, black, red, and green,

A very pretty bird I mean;

Yet he's both fierce and fell:

I count him wise that can this tell.

--A bee. From the same MS.

As I went over Hottery Tottery,

I looked into Harbora Lilly;

I spied a cutterell

Playing with her cambril.

I cryed, Ho, neighbour, ho!

Lend me your cue and your goe,

To shoot at yonder cutterell

Playing with her cambril,

And you shall have the curle of her loe.

--A man calling to his neighbour for a gun to shoot a deer, and he

should have her humbles. MS. ibid.

As I went through my houter touter,

Houter touter, verly;

I see one Mr. Higamgige

Come over the hill of Parley.

But if I had my carly verly,

Carly verly verly;

I would have bine met with Mr. Higamgige

Come over the hill of Parley.

--A man going over a hill, and a fly lighting on his head. MS. ibid.


I have four sisters beyond the sea,

Para-mara, dictum, domine.

And they did send four presents to me,

Partum, quartum, paradise, tempum,

Para-mara, dictum, domine!

The first it was a bird without e'er a bone;

Para-mara, dictum, &c.

The second was a cherry without e'er a stone;

Partum, quartum, &c.

The third it was a blanket without e'er a thread,

Para-mara, dictum, &c.

The fourth it was a book which no man could read,

Partum, quartum, &c.

How can there be a bird without e'er a bone?

Para-mara, dictum, &c.

How can there be a cherry without e'er a stone?

Partum, quartum, &c.

How can there be a blanket without e'er a thread?

Para-mara, dictum, &c.

How can there be a book which no man can read?

Partum, quartum, &c.

When the bird's in the shell, there is no bone;

Para-mara, dictum, &c.

When the cherry's in the bud, there is no stone;

Partum, quartum, &c.

When the blanket's in the fleece, there is no thread;

Para-mara, dictum, &c.

When the book's in the press, no man can read;

Partum, quartum, &c.

Several versions of this metrical riddle are common in the North of

England, and an ingenious antiquary has suggested that it is a parody on

the old monkish songs! It will remind the reader of the Scottish ballad

of Captain Wedderburn's Courtship,

O hold away from me, kind sir,

I pray you let me be;

For I will not go to your bed,

Till you dress me dishes three:

Dishes three you must dress to me,

And I must have them a',

Before that I lie in your bed,

Either at stock or wa'.

O I must have to my supper

A cherry without a stone;

And I must have to my supper

A chicken without a bone:

And I must have to my supper

A bird without a ga',

Before I lie into your bed,

Either at stock or wa'.

When the cherry is in the bloom,

I'm sure it hath no stone;

And when the chicken is in its shell,

I'm sure it hath no bone:

The dove it is a gentle bird,

It flies without a ga',

And we shall both lie in ae bed,

And thou's lie next the wa'.

The belief that a pigeon or dove has no gall forms the subject of a

chapter in Browne's Vulgar and Common Errors, iii. 3. The gall-bladder

does not exist in the dove.

Richard And Blondel Ride A Cock-horse facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail