The meaning behind the song “Sing a Song of Sixpence”

The meaning behind the song "Sing a Song of Sixpence" songs

Sing a Song of Sixpence is a nursery household song that has existed longer than you can imagine in English literature. However, its wording is highly intriguing and baffling, making you categorize it as an old children’s rhyme song. Let’s look at its origin lyrics in detail.

The song has some attractive theories to it relating to its lyrics. One popular theory is that the 24 birds represent the hours of the day, and the King represents the sun while the queen moon. Another theory that most literature nerds tried to push was the lyrics where the 24 birds started singing; it was related to the time of King Henry VIII and the Dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s.

The 24 birds in the song symbolized the choir of monasteries; they baked a pie to carry favor with King Henry. It’s equally important to point out that these two theories were just interpretations of the lyrics, and there wasn’t any objective evidence to back up these claims.

Other theories and interpretations regarding Sing, a Song of Sixpence still stick to the King Henry VIII narrative; her queen was Katherine, who came from the Aragon region. The King fancied their maid and wanted to replace the queen with her; the maid’s name was Anne Boleyn. The section of the song where the maid’s nose is being pecked off references how the French swordsman beheaded the head of Anne Boleyn on that fateful day.

Other people suggested that the blackbirds were the movable types, while the phrase baked in a pie refers to when the printer sets are ready to print the English Bible. All these theories, for some reason, date back to the English Reformation.

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Placing Sing a Song of Sixpence before the Reformation 

Other literature indicates that the nursery rhyme song dates back to 1549 when Opies described a recipe for a pie in which they’ll put live birds on them. While trying to cut the pies, the live birds fly away. The Italian cookbook, named Epulario, meaning the Italian Banquet, has this particular recipe and was then translated into English in 1598.

The pies were famous during banquets. Maybe it was during this time that the Sing a Song of Sixpence was composed for such events. Sing a Song of Sixpence was referenced in one of the most famous poems of the 18th century. In those times, the poetic laureate to King George III, Henry James Pye, wrote a poem in honor of the King’s birthday.

This poem featured references like a feathered choir. Most people believe the poem was horrible and shouldn’t have been presented to the King. George Stevens had to think quickly on the spot and added, ‘when the pye was opened, the birds started singing.’ It’s followed by ‘is that a dainty dish to serve the king?’

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It was a good pie pun poem, and to think that George Stevens thought of these on the spot is quite incredible.

Modern Reference to Sing a Song of Sixpence

The most famous reference to this nursery rhyme was Miss Marple Mystery. It was written by Agatha Christie, known for her crime poetry. The poem ‘A Pocket Full of Rye’ took some rhymes from the song and twisted them into her mystical poetry.

When you look at her work, it starts with a businessman who is murdered. The police are quite intrigued by the situation since they find out his wife is poisoned, and their maid is also found dead in their garden with a clothespin on her nose.

Moreover, the police found a pocket of rye in the murdered man’s coat, plus dead blackbirds, on the deck. Hopefully, the star of the story, Miss Marple, is there to solve the mystery.

There are other references you’ll find apart from this, including the lyrics of Rod Stewards, in ‘Handbags and Gladrags’ and also in the three stooge’s episode named Sing a Song of Six Pants.

You’ll also see traces of the lyrics of this nursery rhyme in the award-winning Broadway musical named Hamilton. A song, Stay Alive, by Lin Miguel Miranda, has some nursery rhyme lyrics.


The nursery rhyme has various interpretations and meanings backed with speculation and creative ideas. Just what a nursery rhyme is expected to ooze. They should always be lost in time, enough for people in the know to decipher, leaving everyone else to wonder.

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There is no easy route to understanding the origin and meaning of Sing a Song of Sixpence. It’s the best part of the nursery rhyme; you can now imagine and draw various meanings.

Delving into the various understandings of people who tried to find the meaning of this nursery rhyme is a voyage of learning. How else would you learn about the life of Edward Teach or the medieval extremet? It’s quite a journey of discovery.

Lyrics “Sing a Song of Sixpence”

Sing a song of sixpence,

A pocket full of rye,

Four and twenty blackbirds

Baked in a pie.

When the pie was opened

The birds began to sing—

Wasn’t that a dainty dish

To set before the King?

The King was in the counting-house

Counting out his money,

The queen was in the parlor

Eating bread and honey,

The maid was in the garden

Hanging out the clothes.

Along came a blackbird

And snipped off her nose.

Sing a song of sixpence,

A pocket full of rye,

Four and twenty blackbirds

Baked in a pie.

When the pie was opened

The birds began to sing—

Wasn’t that a dainty dish

To set before the King?

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