The Emporium Gazette
Issue 49 -- May 2003

Poetry World ~ The Deeper Meaning of Nursery Rhymes
by Bob Nailor

Writing what one knows is, in reality, technical writing; but it can also be applied to poetry. Just like the average person will not decide to compose a manuscript on the structural properties of steel, neither will a person decide, “I shall write a poem,” and then do so.

Poetry comes from within, reflecting that which is around the poet. The poet emotes the feelings of the moment. It may be a love lost eons ago, but the emotions that are currently being felt are what goes into the poem; it may or may not have been filtered and modified by time. Of course, there are those poems written in the heat of the moment that reflect the truer feelings, be they good or bad. The final verdict is whether the poem evokes any emotion in the reader.

One would ask of nursery rhymes and how they reflect the emotion. Many of them were political statements, hidden in obscure meter to avoid repercussion; to wit:

Baa baa, black sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir.
Three bags full.
One for my master,
One for my dame,
And one for the little boy
That lives in the lane.

The above nursery rhyme is supposedly representing the hardships of paying taxes during the Middle Ages. The peasants were required to give 1/3 their income (crops, etc.) to the king (master), another 1/3 to their nobility (dame) and keep 1/3 for themselves (the little boy) to live on. For more information regarding the obscure aspects of nursery rhymes, please check out: This is only one of many sites that can enlighten you regarding the innocent nursery rhymes. Yes, political statements are an emotion!

Other poetry styles, hiaku, sonnet, limerick, also quietly reflect the emotions and exposes the poet’s soul to the reader.

How is this technical? To use the example of the nursery rhyme above, if you can’t feel the hardship of paying taxes, you can’t write with any amount of certainty regarding that fact. One can rest assured that neither the king, nor any nobility, penned those lines. He who receives can’t feel the pain of giving.

Just as engineers write about the molecular properties of steel, a poet must know, and feel it down in the gut, what they are writing about. This, in turn, will bare the poet’s soul to the world.

Yes, write what you know.

Bob Nailor is author of "The Secret Voice," an Amish-Christian story, "Pangaea, Eden Lost," an adventure story, "Three Steps: The Journeys of Ayrold," a Celtic fantasy, and "2012: Timeline Apocalypse," an end-of-time tale. He is also included in several anthologies and collections. Check his website at

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