Posts filed under ‘THE CAT AND THE PLUM TREE’

THE CAT AND THE PLUM TREE

THE ROLE OF CATS IN NURSERY RHYMES
by Sarah Hartwell

Diddle-ti diddle-ti dumpty
The cat’s stuck up the plum tree
Half a crown to fetch her down
Diddle-ti diddle-ti dumpty

Diddley, Diddley, Dumpty,
The cat ran up the plum tree.
I’ll wager a crown I’ll fetch you down,
Sing, Diddledy, Diddledy, Dumpty.

These two versions of the rhyme describe a situation familiar to many cat owners. Cats are very good at climbing trees, but are less good at getting down again. This is because their claws provide ample grip when climbing upwards, but face the wrong direction when descending (hence many cats climb backwards down trees). Unlike the Margay, domestic cats cannot rotate their ankles to get a better grip. In the first version of the verse, the owner is presumably offering someone a half-crown to retrieve the cat from the plum tree. In the second version, the owner is betting that the cat will not get down unaided. The amount offered to bring (fetch) the cat down varies from “half a crown to bring her down” to a whole crown: “I’ll give you a crown to bring her down” or “Here’s a crown to fetch her down”. For those who disapprove of gambling there is another variation.

Diddlety diddlety dumpty,
The cat ran up the plum tree,
Give her a plum, and down she’ll come,
Diddlety diddlety dumpty

Of course, cats don’t eat plums, but there is another nursery rhyme relating to plums i.e. “Little Jack Horner” who pulled a plum from his pie. In the case of Jack Horner, the “plum” was a written deed hidden in the pie in order to smuggle it from one person to another.

Another nursery rhyme about cats stuck in trees is given below. This time, the frustrated owner is apparently threatening the cat with a knock on the head followed by drowning. There are also claims that it alludes to Charles II’s escape from the Roundheads in 1651 when he hid in an oak tree following the Battle of Worcester. Kings are often associated with lions (a big cat) and the verse contains a reference to “crack your crown” and perhaps forcing the captured king into exile overseas.

Feedum, fiddledum fee,
The cat’s got into the tree.
Pussy, come down,
Or I’ll crack your crown,
And toss you into the sea.

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May 25, 2008 at 3:19 pm Leave a comment


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