Conventions of Nursery Rhymes
The conventional nursery rhyme is a vehicle for educating children at an early age of development. Originally constructed to help with language acquisition and understanding, these rhymes are often characterized as “very short poems designed specifically to teach children in one way or another” (Grace 13 Sept 2013). The purpose of a nursery rhyme is to teach language to children by using different techniques helping to stimulate their imagination, while at the same time introducing the skill of memorization and comprehension of simple words (Zuralski). Many nursery rhymes are fashioned as short poems with metrical rhythms, rhyme schemes and repetition of words or sounds. In the poems Young Night-Thought and Where Go the Boats?, Robert Louis Stevenson follows the conventional form of nursery rhymes by using repetition and rhyme schemes to ensure the didactic message is absorbed. Repetition and rhyme scheme go hand in hand when present in nursery rhymes.
In Young Night-Thought, Stevenson uses repetition of both sounds and of words as a technique to help with the understanding of basic language. The repetition of sounds consists of rhyming simple monosyllabic words at the end of every line, with the exception of line twelve, to assist with sound recognition. This technique successfully helps to “develop the skills needed for reading (aloud and silently) and learning spellings” (Pearson). Simple rhymes such as “by” (3), and “eye” (4), or “kings” (5), and “things” (6), effectively introduce vocabulary that is easy to remember through memorization of the rhyming sound. There are only slight changes to the spelling of words allowing children to develop knowledge of language with the similar sounds and basic letter usage. These short lines composed of monosyllabic words also create a metrical rhythm. Children use a musical beat to find patterns that are “appeal[ing] to the human mind because of the regularity” (Grace 13 Sept. 2013) further aiding in the learning process. Focusing on the repetition of words, there are two instances where two significant words are repeated.
From the first line of this poem the word “night” (1) is repeated in three separate forms. The idea of night is carried from the title of the poem into the first line where it is repeated twice. By repeating this word three times, the action of repetition mocks the physical action of going to bed “All night long, and every night” (1), an action that is done over and over again. A child hearing this verse will be able to recognize the word, associate night with a general sense of time and the action of being put to bed while listening to the rhyme. Stevenson accompanies the word night with the action of going to bed allowing children to gain a better understanding of what the word signifies. The second instance of word repetition is the use of the word “marching” (3). The word itself is a bold word which can be comprehended by showing the child the act of marching in sync with the word as it is told in the poem. Every time it is repeated, they can visualize what the word means if followed by the action. Stevenson uses this particular strong action-word to describe people of a fantastical nature such as “Armies and emperors and kings,[…] And marching in so grand a way,” (5, 7), all of whom appeal to the imagination of a child and further develop their acquisition of words in the language. Much like the first poem studied, Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem Where Go the Boats? is a short and simple nursery rhyme designed with children in mind. This poem follows a slightly more complex rhyme scheme with regards to the repetition of similar sounding words at the end of every line. The rhyme alternates between disyllabic words that do not always rhyme, and monosyllabic words that do.
One significant point is that although the words may not rhyme, they contain the proper syllables keeping time to the beat, or similar sounds even without being spelled the same. This still allows the poem to follow the convention of nursery rhymes being metrical, however the didactic message is written in a more complex form. For example, the words “sand” (2), and “hand” (4) are almost identical sounding words with the exception of one letter being different. Rhymes like this are simple and can be remembered easily. Disyllabic words on the other hand are slightly more challenging for children to pronounce due to the complete change in spelling, for example “river” (1), and “ever” (3), requires changing the words completely, yet they are still words that a child can easily follow because of the matching syllables. Changing slightly to examine the repetition of words in this poem, it is quite similar to Young Night-Thought insofar as there are again two separate words being repeated three times. The first word that Stephenson repeats throughout the text is “the river” (1) in the first, ninth, and thirteenth lines of the poem. What is interesting in the placement of the word “river” in the first line is that it answers the question posed in the title Where Go the Boats? The repetition of the word river allows a child listener to associate it with the idea that boats can be found at the river, while at the same time identifying the question being asked in the poem. A child will become familiar with the connection made between the boats and the river through this constant repetition. Another significant word that Stephenson repeats throughout this poem is the word “Away” (11). It is introduced in a different manner than the other forms of repetition within the texts. The word is repeated consecutively at the beginning of three separate lines “Away down the valley, Away down the hill.
Away down the river” (11,12,13). This literary device is called anaphora allowing a pattern to be created at the beginning of each line. While a child may not comprehend what the term means, it is the repetitive technique that creates the effect of a constant movement from one line to the next, similar to the constant movement of a boat moving down the river. A child will become familiar with the word away being associated with a sense of movement and use their imagination to imagine the boat moving past these objects that they have become familiar with. Robert Louis Stevenson’s poetry closely follows the conventional form of nursery rhymes by imbedding a didactic message within the text and educating children using simple repetition and rhyme schemes. While nursery rhymes are very simple forms of writing, they are comprised of a very complex structure with the intention of educating children. As Stevenson portrays in his poems Young Night-Thought and Where Go the Boats?, his poetry demonstrates how particular elements of nursery rhymes are essential in order to create successful narratives.
Grace, Dominick M. ENG 2033E Children’s Literature Course Notes. London, Ontario: Brescia University College, 13 Sept. 2013. Lecture Notes. Pearson, Longman. “Teaching Nursery Rhymes .”PEARSON. Copyright Pearson Education. Web. 6 Oct 2013. . Stevenson, Robert Louis. A Child’s Garden of Verses. New York: CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS, 1905. 6,16. eBook. . Zuralski, Andrea. The Fascination of Nursery Rhymes . GRIN Verlag , 2008. 5. eBook.
Conventions of Nursery Rhymes