Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Statement of the Prosecution at the Trial of the Nursery Rhyme "Four and Twenty Blackbirds"

Your Honour, and the Court

I would like leave to state the case against the so-called nursery rhyme named “Four and Twenty Blackbirds”, which has been masquerading as a children’s ditty. You know the rhyme of course, and no doubt think it is quite innocent.

But that's not true, Your Honour and the Court!  In reality, this allegedly harmless rhyme masks racism, anti-Semitism, anti-feminism, cruelty towards animals, and also promotes social inequality and feudalism, not to speak of disdain for economic progress and the modern capitalistic society. It also tends to make kids into psychopaths, promotes the use of alcohol and insults the independence of the nation to boot.

You wish me to prove what I am saying, Your Honour and the Court? Nothing simpler. I shall at once proceed to do so.

Let us remind ourselves of the exact wording:

Sing a song of sixpence, a pocketful of rye
Four and twenty blackbirds, baked in a pie
And when the pie was opened, the birds began to sing
Wasn’t this a tasty dish to place before the king?

The king was in his counting-house, counting out his money
The queen was in the parlour, eating bread and honey
The maid was in the garden, hanging out the clothes
When along came a blackbird and pecked off her nose.

We'll begin with the title itself, “Four and Twenty Blackbirds.” Your Honour and the Court, please note that the particular species of bird mentioned is black. Why not, let’s say, bluebirds, or turtledoves, or something similar? Can it be for any reason other than racism?

No. It cannot.

Well, let us proceed further. What are the words of the first line of this infamous rhyme? “Sing a song of sixpence, a pocketful of rye.” Now, a sixpence is not a coin of the modern era, in any nation. Therefore, the rhyme orders us to sing of an obsolete coin of a foreign ruler – asking us, in other words, to head back to the despicable colonial era when the sixpence-using British overlords held the nation in a state of subservience. Can you imagine how the heroes of our freedom struggle would have reacted to this?

Not very well, Your Honour and the Court. Not very well at all.

As for the pocketful of rye, one immediately thinks of rye whisky – a terrible drink, full of the demon of alcohol, which causes so much suffering, and which our enlightened leaders have so often spoken against even though economic realities have constrained them from prohibiting its production and consumption. A pocketful of it must mean a hip flask – that instrument of the devil which allows the slaves of the drink to have it on their persons at all times. Can you imagine the depravity of a rhyme which asks children to sing of it?

But does this terrible ditty end its evil there? No, Your Honour and the Court, it does not. Have a look at the second line: “Four and twenty blackbirds, baked in a pie.” Can you, Your Honour and the Court, conceive the barbarity involved in baking a single bird in a pie, let alone twenty-four of them – all, while they are alive? For the very next line says, “When the pie was opened, the birds began to sing.” One can wonder whether the birds were singing or screaming in agony – probably the latter. But this rhyme, by encouraging children to think shrieks of suffering are the sound of music, directly condones and promotes sociopathy! Who knows how many Jack the Rippers or Bluebeards had their genesis in listening to this in childhood, Your Honour?

It’s not just the arrant cruelty in confining twenty-four innocent avians in a piece of pastry to be baked alive. Can you imagine, Your Honour, what those innocent birds must have done inside the pie in their pain and terror? Yes, you are right to look disgusted, Your Honour. So, on top of its other crimes, this alleged children’s rhyme throws hygiene right out of the window!

But, let us for the sake of argument take the line that the pie was a “dainty dish”, a gourmet creation. What, Your Honour, was done with this pie? Was it shared out among the common people or even those who had crafted it? No, it was “set before the king.” In such insidious ways does this rhyme promote royalty, social inequality, and the feudal system!

Now, where was the king when this pie was set before him? He was “in his counting house, counting out his money.” In other words, he was a miser, hoarding his gold instead of using it for the benefit of his subjects – and, since he had a “counting house”, he was a usurer as well, lending to the desperate at exorbitant rates of interest. Do you know, Your Honour, who in popular consciousness is supposed to have a “counting house”? The Jewish moneylender, that’s who. Yes, just look at it with any attention, and this monarchist, animal-cruelty-supporting, feudal rhyme is anti-Semitic as well.

But so far we’ve barely scratched the surface of its crimes. While the king was in his counting house with his blackbird pie and his money, what was the queen doing? Why, she was in her parlour, eating plain old bread and honey. Not a fragment of that pie for her, even though she is royalty too. Whatever happened to the equality of the sexes, Your Honour and the Court? Where have the feminist values gone?

Meanwhile, what of the underclass over which these decadent royals rule? The only representative of that underclass who finds any mention is a poor maid, who is “out in the garden, hanging out the clothes.” Not for her even a piece of bread or a drop of honey, let alone any of that blackbird pie. And, in an age when the economic downturn calls out desperately for increased consumer spending, what does this rhyme want us to do? Buy a washing machine? No, we are to “hang out the clothes” to have them dried by profitless, untaxable, sunlight and air. I ask you!

But, let us not forget this poor maid. Drudgery is not the sum of her misfortunes. As she is hanging out the clothes, a blackbird, no doubt enraged beyond tolerance by the screams of its relatives, comes along, and, not being able to reach the perpetrators of this horrible crime, “pecks off her nose”. Can you imagine the poor girl’s future? She has to go through life disfigured through no fault of her own. And the children end up laughing and clapping at her fate, as though it’s funny. How many psychopaths are we creating with this rhyme, Your Honour? How many?

I call for justice!

I don’t blame you for changing complexion with horror at the litany of this rhyme’s sins, Your Honour. In fact, I’d say you were justified in going white.

But then that would be racism too.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2013

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