Folk Narrative – Two Dead Boys

Folk Narrative – Two Dead Boys

“One bright morning late at night
Two dead boys got up to fight
Back to back they faced each other
Drew their swords and shot each other
A deaf policeman heard the noise
And came and shot the two dead boys.”

The informant stated that her father used to tell her this story when she was a young girl, but she has “absolutely no idea” what it means. The only purpose she was able to provide is that it is humorous and confusing, and “sounds funny because it doesn’t make sense.”
I agree with the informant in that this story is intended for children as a humorous story that isn’t supposed to make sense. It seems to be an example of a Nonsense Verse, which is defined as:
a form of light verse, usually for children, depicting imaginative characters in amusing situations of fantasy, whimsical in tone and with a rhythmic appeal, often employing fanciful phrases and meaningless made-up words.

It seems that the whole appeal of this story lies in that it makes absolutely no sense, but it rhymes and is humorous, so it is appealing to young children that are just beginning to make sense of words and language. Furthermore, it seems to be something repeated often between parent and child, perhaps to create a playful atmosphere that is lighthearted and fun. In this respect, the story has a social aspect in that it builds relationships and bonds between people that are often of different generations. The variation provided to me by the informant seems to follow the general pattern of other versions of this story, but it is missing many verses. Variations of this story have been recorded from children on playgrounds since the 1850’s (
Here is a variation that includes several more verses:

“One fine day in the middle of the night” (Journal Versions)
1. One fine day in the middle of the night,
2. Two dead boys* got up to fight, [*or men]
3. Back to back they faced each other,
4. Drew their swords and shot each other,
5. One was blind and the other couldn’t, see
6. So they chose a dummy for a referee.
7. A blind man went to see fair play,
8. A dumb man went to shout “hooray!”
9. A paralysed donkey passing by,
10. Kicked the blind man in the eye,
11. Knocked him through a nine inch wall,
12. Into a dry ditch and drowned them all,
13. A deaf policeman heard the noise,
14. And came to arrest the two dead boys,
15. If you don’t believe this story’s true,
16. Ask the blind man he saw it too!

Annotation: further discussion on this story can be found in Peter Opie’s The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren [1959, Oxford. Oxford University Press, pp. 24-29].