I recently came across a copy of ‘The Standard Comic Reciter’ – quite an old book and I have yet to find the date of publication (around 1900). But it contains the article ‘Old Mother Hubbard’ from ‘Children of Nature, A Story of Modern London (1878)’ by the late Earl of Desart (by kind permission of Ellen, Countess of Desart.) He was the fourth Earl and died in 1898. The Earl was a literary man who wrote 15 novels. The Countess of Desart went on to become a politician in her own right and died in June 1933, aged 75.
The whole article is an exploration of the first four lines of the well-known nursery rhyme ‘Mother Hubbard’.
‘Old Mother Hubbard, she went to the cupboard,
To get her poor dog a bone;
But when she got there the cupboard was bare,
And so the poor dog had none.’
The article is dedicated to an interpretation of these lines with resultant meaning applicable to everyday life. Looking at the bare bones of his discourse (sorry about that!) with some added interpretation …
Old = the assumption made is that she is a widow and lives alone
She went = she did not deviate from her focus of intent
The cupboard = the emphasis is on the word ‘the’ indicating that she only had one cupboard and it had that important food function
Poor = poor to me indicates that the dog is hungry, an assumption is made that the woman is poor as well as the dog.
Mother = no mention is made of the fact she is a mother, whether or not her children are still around is another matter, and bound to the house as carer would be understood by those reading the text at the time it was written.
It is assumed that she went to the cupboard with an expectation of finding a bone.
She got there = she achieved her goal
Bare = but shock, shock the cupboard is bare – we don’t know whether the door was open or not – and whether she had other things in the cupboard – we don’t know how the bone disappeared (and whether any other contents left the sceene – cakes, sweetbreads, hams etc.)
So the poor dog had none = a matter of fact statement … the old woman, perhaps very disappointed, concludes her task and leaving it behind does not dwell on her situation – this is the key to the Earl’s thought in his concluding lessons …
To avoid being widows (if possible)
To have more than one cupboard (if possible)
To avoid keeping dogs fond of bones (well, all dogs like bones – perhaps some like them too much!)
To accept the inevitable with calm steadfastness … this is indeed the whole crux of the matter – acccept the situation and no matter what happens in life just move on – the full stop at the end of the line is so important!
How many people continue to dwell on something that has happened in their life and can’t move on! Bringing it up time and time again … and again …
And of course I must add another lesson – a lot can be gleaned from very little text! As I am sure that those that write Haiku and Tanka would surely agree.
Note … From Wikipedia – Earl of Desart was a title in the Peerage of Ireland. It was created in 1793 for Otway Cuffe, 1st Viscount Desart. He had already succeeded his elder brother as third Baron Desart in 1767 and been created Viscount Desart, in the County of Kilkenny, in the Peerage of Ireland in 1781.).
Note also – this nursery rhyme has been equated to Henry VIII and his attempt to influence the Catholic Church (Cardinal Worsley) to get approval for a divorce from Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn.