“Rock A Bye, Baby” – The Origin Stories

By | June 19, 2019

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Babies in trees? Rock A Bye, Baby is a strange nursery rhyme. Source: (mamalisa.com)

If you think about it, the popular nursery rhyme, “Rock A Bye, Baby,” contains some strange lyrics. After all, it tells of a baby rocking in the branches of a tree and falling to the ground when a limb snaps, which is, in of itself, rather violent, disturbing, and horrible. Why is that baby even up there? Sticking an infant in a tree doesn’t sound like  a sound parental safe practice today, but the ditty must have some odd backstory that we don’t know about yet, right? Right. So, as it turns out, there are several stories that explain the origins of this somewhat disturbing nursery rhyme. Much like most nursery rhymes, and fairy tales (like, for example, the original "Ring Around The Rosie" meaning being connected to the black plague), the origins are rather dark. 

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The remains of the Kenyon family yew tree. Source: (commons.wikimedia.org)

The Kenyon Family of Tree Dwellers

Some stories claim that the impetus of “Rock A Bye, Baby” came from the real-life Kenyon family of Derbyshire, England. Back in the 1700s, Kate and Luke Kenyon and their eight children made their home in a hollowed-out yew tree. The tree was massive and old – perhaps as old as 2,000 years. According to legend, the Kenyon's hollowed out one of the branches of the tree and made it into a cradle for their babies. Tucked safely into the tree branch, the child could be lulled to sleep by the movement of the tree in the wind. Apparently, the yew tree still exists in the woods outside Derbyshire, but it was damaged in the 1930s when vandals lit a fire inside it.