The Possible Biblical Origins of The Nursery Rhyme – Little Boy Blue

Does “Little Boy Blue” come from the Bible? The biblical book of Joel has only three chapters and yet when we read it we see glimpses of that popular nursery rhyme.

Over the years I have realized that much of what is in the secular world came from the sacred Bible in a modified form. “Little Boy Blue” the Nursery Rhyme is no exception. The book of Joel in the Bible has only three chapters. It is one of the shortest book in the Bible. Yet within its pages we can see, perhaps, the source of the “Little Boy Blue” rhyme in its adapted form. Some think that Cardinal Wolsey was referred to in the rhyme in the sixteenth century. However, before Cardinal Wolsey was the book of Joel, pointing out the cardinal sins of the priests and ministers and the resultant drought and plague that followed.

Let us look at the nursery rhyme in its entirety:

“Little Boy Blue come blow your horn,
The sheep’s in the meadow the cow’s in the corn.
But where’s the boy who looks after the sheep?
He’s under a haystack fast asleep.
Will you wake him? No, not I                                                                                                                           For if I do, he’s sure to cry.”

We will now deal with each line separately:

(1) “Little Boy Blue come blow your horn.”

The name “Little Boy Blue”most likely is just an attempt at alliteration as well as a pun on the word “blue” which sounds like “blew.” He is told to “blow” the trumpet and of course the Past Tense of “blow” is “blew.” Less likely is the fact that Israel was told to have a border of blue on their clothes. Num. 15:38  says:

“Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue.”

We can only speculate about the name but the command to blow his trumpet is very biblical and reminiscent of the book of  Joel. Twice in Joel chapter 2 we are told:

Joel 2:1 “Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain ….”

Joel 2:15 “Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly.”

They did not have nice shiny trumpets in Joel’s day. If you look in the margin of your Bible you will see that trumpet here is a ram’s horn.  So in fact Joel is saying to “Blow the horn” and he says it twice in one chapter.

(2) “The sheep’s in the meadow the cow’s in the corn.”
Does Joel mention any of these things?

Joel 1:18 says: “How do the beasts groan! the herds of cattle are perplexed, because they have no pasture; yea, the flocks of sheep are made desolate.”

The “herds of cattle” are the “cow” and the “flocks of sheep” are the “sheep.” It does not matter that the biblical parallels here are in the plural because the apostrophe “s” used in the nursery rhyme give the illusion of plurality (and with it the illusion of bad grammar).

What about the corn? Three times in this short book we are told about corn:

Joel 1:10 “The field is wasted, the land mourneth; for the cornis wasted: the new wine is dried up, the oil languisheth.”

Joel 1:17 “The seed is rotten under their clods, the garners are laid desolate, the barns are broken down; for the corn is withered.”

Joel 2:19  “Yea, the LORD will answer and say unto his people, Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and ye shall be satisfied therewith: and I will no more make you a reproach among the heathen.”

(3) “But where’s the boy who looks after the sheep?    

What do we call those who look after the “sheep” in church? Joel 1:9, 13 and 2:17 refer to the “the priests, the LORD’S ministers” three times. When we come to the last line we will see how the priests or ministers fit into all of this more clearly.

(4) “He’s under a haystack fast asleep.

       Will you wake him? No, not I”                                                                                      

Joel 1:5  says “Awake, ye drunkards, and weep; and howl, all ye drinkers of wine, because of the new wine; for it is cut off from your mouth.”

This reference to waking people up is with respect to the drunkards, who, like the priests, must weep. As I stated earlier, the secular world adapts and modifies what is in the Word.

Did Joel also mention a haystack? Well, he did mention a barn and barns have, you guessed it, hay. Joel 1:17  “The seed is rotten under their clods, the garners are laid desolate, the barns are broken down; for the corn is withered.”

(5) “For if I do, he’s sure to cry.”

Where does this idea of crying in this situation come from?

Joel 1:9  says “The meat offering and the drink offering is cut off from the house of the LORD; the priests, the LORD’S ministers, mourn.”

Joel 1:13  says “Gird yourselves, and lament, ye priests: howl, ye ministers of the altar: come, lie all night in sackcloth, ye ministers of my God: for the meat offering and the drink offering is withholden from the house of your God.”

Joel 2:17  adds “Let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O LORD, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God?”

Four different words are given in those first two chapters for crying – mourn, lament, howl and weep.

What are the odds of all these details being similar to the “Little Boy Blue” nursery rhyme without being related? Add to that the fact that the book of Joel is just three chapters. All the references are in close proximity.

Here again is yet another example, I believe, of the Bible being used to construct a nursery rhyme as was done in the case of “Mary had a little Lamb” as we saw previously:  Let us take the Bible firsthand instead, unadulterated and unsullied by the twists and turns of human frivolity.

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