- Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary
"Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary"
Mistress Mary, according to William Wallace Denslow
Written by Traditional Published c. 1744 Written England Language English Form Nursery rhyme
"Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary" is a popular English nursery rhyme. The rhyme has been seen as having religious and historical significance, but its origins and meaning are disputed. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 19626.
The most common modern version is:
The oldest known version was first published in Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book (c. 1744) with the following lyrics:
Mistress Mary, Quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With Silver Bells, And Cockle Shells,
And so my garden grows.
Several printed versions of the eighteenth century have lyric:
The last line has the most variation including:
:With lady bells all in a row.
:Marigolds all in a row
Like many nursery rhymes, it has acquired various historical explanations. These include:
- That it is a religious allegory of Catholicism, with bells representing the sanctus bells, the cockleshells the badges of the pilgrims to the shrine of Saint James in Spain (Santiago de Compostela) and pretty maids are nuns, but even within this strand of thought there are differences of opinion as to whether it is lament for the reinstatement of Catholicism or for its persecution.
- Another theory sees the rhyme as connected to Mary, Queen of Scots, with "how does your garden grow" referring to her reign over her realm, "silver bells" referring to (Catholic) cathedral bells, "cockle shells" insinuating that her husband was not faithful to her, and "pretty maids all in a row" referring to her ladies-in-waiting - "The four Maries".
- These explanations vary; it is identified with Mary I of England for roughly the same reasons as with her Scottish counterpart. The "How does your garden grow?" may make mocking reference to her womb and the fact that she gave birth to no heirs, or to the common idea that England had become a Catholic vassal or "branch" of Spain and the Habsburgs, or may even be a punning reference to her chief minister, Stephen Gardiner ("gardener"). "Quite contrary" could be a reference to her unsuccessful attempt to reverse ecclesiastical changes effected by her father Henry VIII and her brother Edward VI. The "pretty maids all in a row" could be a reference to miscarriages as with the other Mary or her execution of Lady Jane Grey after coming to the throne. "Rows and rows" may refer to her infamous burnings and executions of Protestants. Alternatively, capitalizing on the Queen's portrayal by Whig historians as "Bloody Mary", the "silver bells and cockle shells" referred to in the nursery rhyme could be colloquialisms for instruments of torture.
Still others argue that no proof has been found that the rhyme was known before the eighteenth century, while Mary I of England and Mary, Queen of Scots, were contemporaries in the sixteenth century.
Use in popular culture
- The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett includes the last line "And marigolds all in a row."
- The Virgin and the Gipsy by D. H. Lawrence
- "How Does Your Garden Grow?" (in Poirot's Early Cases) by Agatha Christie
- In the Jasper Fforde novel The Big Over Easy, Detective Sergeant Mary Mary joins the Nursery Crime division of the Reading, Berkshire police Department. She helps Detective Inspector Jack Spratt solve the murder of Humperdink ("Humpty" for short) Dumpty.
- The nursery rhyme was also parodied in Roald Dahl's Rhyme Stew:
Mary, Mary, quite contrary
How does your garden grow?
"I live with my brat in a high-rise flat
so how in the world would I know."
- The comedy-variety series The Carol Burnett Show featured a sketch titled "Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary", that appeared in the opening show of the 1976-'77 season. This was a direct spin-off and parody of the then-popular late-night program Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.
In popular music
- The song "Mary, Mary So Contrary" from the album Monster Movie, by the rock group Can
- A verse in Rufus Thomas's blues song "Walkin' the Dog", also covered by Aerosmith as well as The Rolling Stones
- The song "Pretty Maids All in a Row" by Eagles.
- The band Pepper uses the line in the song "Ho's"
- The last line in the song "Mary Mary" by Chumbawamba is "Mary, Mary, quite contrary".
- The UK punk rock band The Addicts parodies the rhyme in its song 'Mary Whitehouse'.
- Oasis's song Live Forever opens with the lyric "Maybe I don't really wanna know/ How your garden grows"
- Better Than Ezra's 1998 album was titled How Does Your Garden Grow?
- In the musical The Secret Garden this song is sung several times with different words, signifying the cholera deaths of the family of protagonist Mary.
- A flower in Teletubbyland from the Teletubbies sings the rhyme during a bridge in the song Teletubbies say "Eh Oh!", before commenting to another flower "I'm so glad that's finished - what a terrible racket!"
- In the Michael Franti song Ganja Babe the uses line "Mary,Mary, Quite Contrary. How Does Your Garden Grow?"
- The song "Mary, Mary" by swedish singer Rebecka Törnqvist uses the rhyme as refrain.
- The song "Love is a Good Thing" by Sheryl Crow contains the line "Mary, Mary quite contrary, close the door now, it's much too scary" in the refrain.
- The song "Big Eight" by Judge Dread contains the line "Mary, Mary quite contrary, why you look so fine? Cause I've had a visit from Judge Dread and he's given me big nine"
- The song "Jibber and Twitch" from the album "The Seaside" by the English band Cardiacs contains the lines "With Silver Bells and Cockle shells and pretty Maids all in a row"
- In the song "Lie" from the album "Awake" by the American Progressive Rock Band Dream Theater. It contains the lines "Mary, Mary, quite contrary".
- Appears in Babes in Toyland (1934 film) played by Marie Wilson; and in other film versions of Babes in Toyland.
- Pretty Maids All in A Row is a 1971 American movie starring Rock Hudson and Angie Dickinson.
- In Rudy (1993), a drunken Rudy says the opening lines to a girl named Mary.
- In The Secret Garden (1993), the children sing to Mary Lennox making fun of her at the train station.
- Can's rendition appears in the soundtrack of Norwegian Wood.
- Mary Mary is one of the many bizarre Fables imprisoned at the Golden Boughs Retirement Village in the comic Jack of Fables. Here she is depicted as looking like Marilyn Monroe, and disagrees with everything. Another character comments that if Mary Mary says that a scheme is sure to fail, it will inevitably succeed.
- Ryanair 2001 ad depicting Mary O’Rourke, Irish Minister for Transport, in a bubble bath (“Mary, Mary quite contrary,” read the ad, “How does your monopoly grow? It doesn’t”).
- Roberts, Chris (2004). Heavy words lightly thrown: the reason behind the rhyme. London: Granta. pp. 33–34. ISBN 1-86207-765-7. OCLC 56646713. http://books.google.com/books?id=MdMZqhMzfpYC&printsec=frontcover&cad=0#PPA33,M1.
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