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De Santis, V.P. (1986). Nursery Rhymes—A Developmental Perspective. Psychoanal. St. Child, 41:601-626.

(1986). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 41:601-626

Nursery Rhymes—A Developmental Perspective

Vincent P. De Santis, M.D.

THE VERSES WHICH ARE RECITED AND SUNG BY CHILDREN AND PARents are so much a part of our present culture and heritage that they are usually taken for granted. When we do wonder about the characters and scenes described in these short rhymes, it is frequently because a child has asked us about them. The common questions relate to the surface of the poems such as why the old woman lives in a shoe, why London Bridge is falling down, or how a cow can jump over the moon; sometimes these questions are difficult to answer. The vivid images of the nursery songs are ambiguous and puzzling. Their compressed, epigrammatic style explains far less in the way of a story than, for example, fairy tales, and the rich symbols which bear the images of families living in shoes and livestock cavorting by moonlight seem to be all the more opaque in spite of, or perhaps because of, their long familiarity.

This paper is an attempt to unravel some of these mysteries from our childhood. Initially I comment on some general characteristics of this literature and its tradition and then consider in some detail a number of nursery rhymes from a psychoanalytic developmental point of view.

The notion of analyzing a particular genre of children's literature from a developmental perspective is not a novel one.

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