Songs to Know #4: Who Killed Cock Robin?


Who killed Cock Robin? Who killed Cock Robin?

"I," said the sparrow, "with my little bow and arrow,

It was I, oh, it was I."

Who saw him die? Who saw him die?

"I," said the fly, "with my little teeny eye,

It was I, oh, it was I."

Who dug his grave? Who dug his grave?

"I" said the crow, "with my little spade and hoe,

It was I, oh, it was I."

Who preached his funeral? Who preached his funeral?

"I," said the lark, "with my little song and harp,

It was I, oh, it was I."

Who rang the bell? Who rang the bell?

"I," said the bull, "with my mighty strength did pull,

It was I, oh, it was I."

Who was the mourner? Who was the mourner?

"I," said the dove, "I was cryin' for my love,

It was I, oh, it was I."

This beautiful version of "Who Killed Cock Robin" is sung by a former professor of mine, Jill Trinka. Following the teaching methodologies of Zoltan Kodaly, Jill Trinka provides many well documented and researched folksongs for music educators. In her book "Folksongs, Singing Games, and Play Parties volume 3" (now called "My Little Rooster"), she says writes about the history of "Who Killed Cock Robin" - I have paraphrased her remarks...

"Cock Robin" is one of the oldest English nursery rhymes. It was first recorded in 1744, though the language suggests that it may have originated in the fourteenth century. Alan Lomax in "Folk Songs of North America" suggests that since robins or wrens were often sacrificed in European spring renewal rituals, the roots of "Cock Robin' probably go back to Nordic myths about the ritual murder of the bringer of fire and spring. The version above is based on a melody found in Appalachia by folksong researcher, Cecil Sharp.

Here is another version, with many more verses, sung by Peggy Seeger.

As an aside, I never taught this song when I was a music teacher because I was so fearful and uncomfortable about singing about death. It's only recently that I have been more comfortable talking about death with my children. Children seem to take the topic of death in stride when it occurs in fairy tales, stories, and songs. My six year old was riveted by the first version of this song but I added the second version per his request because he preferred the tune and instrumentation. I would love to hear how your kids respond to this song and its lyrics!


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