Tag Archives: one for sorrow

One for Sorrow, Two For Joy (nursery rhyme)

According to an old superstition, the number of magpies one encounters will determine whether one experiences bad or good luck. Like many folk songs and nursery rhymes, there is considerable variation regarding the lyrics, but here is a contemporary version:

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.

ANALYSIS: Magpies have frequently been considered a bad omen in many cultures, specifically Britain as far back as the early sixteenth century. As the rhyme shows, most of the numbers have good things associated with them; the only bad magpie to see is one lone magpie. For this reason, in many parts of the United Kingdom, “people will salute a single magpie and say “Good morning Mr Magpie. How is your lady wife today?” By acknowledging the magpie in this way you are showing him proper respect in the hope that he will not pass bad fortune on to you. By referring to the magpie’s wife you are also implying that there are two magpies, which bring joy rather than sorrow according to the popular rhyme.” The fact that this superstition has lasted so long reminds us that, especially in places with such ancient culture as the UK, old superstitions die hard and many of our modern ways of behavior stem from them.