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Who Killed Cock Robin?

[ Roud 494 ; Ballad Index SKE74 ; trad.]

Folk Songs of the Southern Appalachians

The McPeake Family sang Cock Robin in 1963 on their Topic album Irish Traditional Folk Songs and Music. A.L. Lloyd noted:

Big theories surround the origin of this little piece. Some say the Cock Robin song originated with intrigues that led to the downfall of Robert Walpole as Prime Minister in 1742. Others say it arose out of an early myth such as the Norse legend of the Death of Balder. Less ingenious thinkers take it as a more or less meaningless nursery piece that has been on the go for about two hundred years and has taken on various shapes. This is the McPeake Family shape of it.

Tim Hart, Maddy Prior and Melanie Harrold sang Who Killed Cock Robin? on Tim Hart and Friends’ 1983 album Drunken Sailor and Other Kids Songs. This track was later reissued on the compilation CD Favourite Nursery Rhymes and Other Children’s Songs.

John Roberts and Tony Barrand sang Who Killed Cock Robin? in 2003 on their album Twiddlum Twaddlum. They noted:

What we called “nursery rhymes” (known in the U.S. as “Mother Goose rhymes”) almost always had tunes associated with them. We both knew this unrelentingly sad lament as children. The tiny English “cock” robin has little in common with the American robin, the largest of the North American thrushes. Iona and Peter Opie speculate in their classic The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford University Press, 1951) that it may have been a political commentary on Robert Walpole as it was first recorded during his tenure as Prime Minister in 1744. If so, the hard-hitting parody on the death of Marilyn Monroe, Who Killed Norma Jean? (words by Norman Rosten, music by Pete Seeger, 1963), maintained that usage.


Tim Hart and Friends sing Who Killed Cock Robin?

Who killed Cock Robin?
I, said the sparrow, with my bow and arrow
I killed Cock Robin.

Chorus (after each verse):
All the birds of the air fell a-sighing and a-sobbing
When they heard of the death of poor Cock Robin
When they heard of the death of poor Cock Robin.

Who saw him die?
I, said the fly, with my little eye,
I saw him die.

Who’ll dig his grave?
I, said the owl, with my little trowel,
I’ll dig his grave.

Who’ll be the parson?
I, said the rook, with my little book,
I’ll be the parson.

Who’ll be chief mourner?
I, said the dove, I’ll mourn for my love,
I’ll be chief mourner.

Who’ll toll the bell?
I, said the bull, because I can pull,
I’ll toll the bell.