Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater

William Wallace Denslow’s illustrations for Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater, from a 1901 edition of Mother GooseOne of my all time favorite poems and one that my father said to me countless times is Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater.

One of my all time favorite poems is Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater but not because of the rhyme, rather for the memory of the countless times my father said it to me. He also recited Three Blind Mice quite often to me.  One might think — given Peter’s treatment of his wife not to mention three mice tails in jeopardy — my daddy was abusive by his pick of poetry to recite to a small child but the truth is he was a gentle soul with hands and arms like steel. He earned his living at the end of a hammer and hand saw, beginning at the lowest position. it is those days I remember the most. My father coming home covered in sawdust and construction grime, kissing Mama on her cheek, then washing up for super. I would look for him each day and he never disappointed. Always home from work on time and giving me a big hug before heading inside. When I was twelve we moved to Bonnie Street . Dad brought home a chalk board that he hung on the garage wall. It was then we began to leave each other messages each evening on the board (welcome home, sorry for the mason jar, Daddy  — and other such messages) which usually ended in I Love You. Looking back I think he did this because I was growing up and he wanted to preserve the evening ritual of my running up to him for his big hug. I think he knew in his father’s heart the day was coming that his little girl would wave from a neighbor’s front yard or the park down the street as he pulled into the drive.

Per Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, the rhyme is not present in any of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century collections published in Britain. The first surviving version of the rhyme was published in Mother Goose’s Quarto: or Melodies Complete, in Boston, Massachusetts around 1825. However, a verse collected from Aberdeen Scotland and published in 1868 had the words:

Peter, my neeper,
Had a wife,
And he couidna’ keep her,
He pat her i’ the wa’,
And lat a’ the mice eat her.

As a result it is possible that the verse was an older one adapted to include pumpkins in America. This verse is also considered to be an older version of the rhyme Eeper Weeper

Eeper Weeper, chimbly sweeper,
Had a wife but couldn’t keep her.
Had another, didn’t love her,
Up the chimbly he did shove her.

Other versions exist, however it appears new verse has in many cases been tweaked to fit a specific purpose.  The following modern version is an example.

Peter, Peter pumpkin eater,
Had a wife but couldn’t keep her;
He put her in a pumpkin shell
And there he kept her very well.
Peter, Peter pumpkin eater,
Had another and didn’t love her;
Peter learned to read and spell,
And then he loved her very well.

This gives me a new thought of how to decorate the front porch for Trick-R-Treat!

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