7 Apr 2018


Hmm! Reading Joanne Harris' wonderful A Pocketful Of Crows (see my review here) I came across the lyrics to the 'Magpie' rhyme.

You know the one which goes ...

One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
(I forget the rest)

Wellll, seems I may have been getting it wrong all this time.

Considered an ill omen in many cultures (nothing to do with my being terrified of birds, that's a whole other post). In the afore mentioned A Pocketful Of Crows, Joanne Harris has it as ...

One for anger,
Two for mirth
Three for a wedding,
Four for a birth.
Five for rich,
Six for poor,
Seven for a witch:
I can tell you no more
- 16th Century

Whilst research leads me to believe that  ....
  • First recorded in the seventeen hundreds, the rhyme went ...

One for sorrow,
Two for mirth,
Three for a funeral,
And four for birth
John Brand's Observations on Popular Antiquities
(Lincolnshire 1780) 
  • Until extended some time later it went ...

One for sorrow,

Two for mirth
Three for a funeral,
Four for birth,
Five for heaven,
Six for hell,
Seven for the devil, his own self
- Michael Aislabie Denham's Proverbs and Popular Saying of the Seasons
(London 1846)
  • The 'modern' version (and the one I now remember my nana telling me) having it as ...
One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret,
Never to be told.
Eight for a wish,
Nine for a kiss,
Ten for a bird,
You must not miss

A rhyme most of my generation here in England grew up knowing. Whilst many European countries have their own folklore featuring magpies (which by the way, the colours of the black and white home strip giving Newcastle United FC the nick-name of The Magpies) I'm led to believe they are far less common in other countries, do you know of this rhyme or indeed any other legends surrounding this member of the crow family?


Kelly said...

While I know many, many childhood rhymes, this is one I didn't learn. Maybe that's because we don't have Magpies around here (that I know of), though we certainly have lots of crows.

Anonymous said...

In The Netherlands we are not
familiar with the Magpie rhyme.
And I do not know any Dutch
rhymes or legends about them.
But at Artis (the zoo of Amsterdam)
there are a lot of Magpies and they are
quite bold (not to speak of Crows and

Suko said...

I've never heard this rhyme before, Tracy. We have a lot of crows here, and magpies as well. But this one's new to me! I hope you've had a relaxing weekend.

Shooting Stars Mag said...

Ooh very intriguing. I don't believe I know these rhymes, or really anything about magpies. I guess it might be more of an English thing!


LL Cool Joe said...

Now I'll be singing the theme to the TV programme Magpie all day! Thanks for that. :D

Karen Alderman said...

I haven't heard of this rhyme and only recently noticed magpies showing up in a lot of the books I have been reading :-)

Karen @ For What It's Worth

Yvonne@fiction-books said...

Agh! Now I can see your comment box again. It disappeared there for a while - those pesky gremlins!

I'm with Joe, in that I shall be singing the theme tune of 'Magpie' for a while, now that you have fixed it in my mind.

I have a colleague who hails from up your part of the country (well, County Durham to be exact) and she has a theory that you are always supposed to salute a magpie -

"Why do you have to salute a magpie?
It's for good luck, or to ward off bad luck. Some people say you should also hail it thus: "Morning Mr Magpie, how's your wife and kids?" and turn around on the spot."

I always knew there was something strange about her, apart from her accent of course - Just joking, we have been friends for almost 20 years now :)

Enjoy your Sunday :)


Lindsay said...

Interesting to see how this has varied and changed over time!