As i was going to st ives a Classic Nursery Rhyme


By Cynthia-G-Toups

Nursery rhymes are an integral part of our childhood memories, passed down through generations. One such enigmatic nursery rhyme that has puzzled young minds for centuries is “As I Was Going to St. Ives.” The rhyme’s simplicity and intriguing content have sparked curiosity, making it a timeless classic.

In this article, we will explore the origins and evolution of the lyrics, decipher the possible meanings behind this seemingly innocent rhyme, and address frequently asked questions to shed light on its mysteries. By the end, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the complexity hidden within the seemingly straightforward verses.

As I was going to St Ives
I met a man with seven wives
Every wife had seven sacks
Every sack had seven cats
Every cat had seven kits
Kits, cats, sacks, wives
How many were going to St Ives?

The Evolution of the Lyrics

The origins of “As I Was Going to St. Ives” are shrouded in history. It is believed to have been written during the 18th century in England. The rhyme might have been part of an oral tradition long before it was transcribed into writing. Over the centuries, slight variations in the lyrics have emerged, but the core essence has remained consistent.

Despite its age, the rhyme has stood the test of time and continues to capture the imagination of children and adults alike. With the advent of the internet and digital media, the popularity of the nursery rhyme has only grown.

A Mathematical Puzzle?

The rhyme’s central puzzle lies in the question posed at the end: “How many were going to St. Ives?” One might be tempted to solve this as a simple arithmetic problem, but a closer analysis reveals that it is more complex.

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The traditional interpretation considers the narrator as the only one going to St. Ives while the other characters are heading in the opposite direction. This interpretation suggests that only one person (the narrator) is going to St. Ives, while the rest are met on the way.

An Allegorical Interpretation

Alternatively, some literary analysts propose an allegorical interpretation. The “man with seven wives” could represent a polygamist or someone with multiple responsibilities. The “sacks” may symbolize burdens or secrets carried by each wife. The “cats” could be a representation of femininity and independence, and the “kits” could represent the children of these wives.

In this allegorical interpretation, the rhyme could be a commentary on societal norms, responsibilities, and the complexity of human relationships.

The Fascination with Riddles and Puzzles

Human beings have always been captivated by riddles and puzzles. “As I Was Going to St. Ives” taps into this fascination by presenting a seemingly straightforward question that holds hidden intricacies. This aspect of the rhyme may be one of the reasons it has remained popular for generations.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Is “As I Was Going to St. Ives” a historical account?

No, the nursery rhyme is not a historical account but rather a fictional piece of poetry intended for amusement and mental stimulation.

Are there any historical connections to the town of St. Ives?

The town of St. Ives in Cornwall, England, has a rich history, but there is no direct evidence linking it to the nursery rhyme. It is more likely that the name was chosen for its rhyming and rhythmic qualities.

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What is the significance of the number seven in the rhyme?

The number seven has a long-standing mystical significance in various cultures, often associated with completeness or perfection. Its repetitive use in the rhyme could be a deliberate choice to add a sense of mystery and wonder.

Are there other versions of the rhyme?

Yes, over time, several variations of the rhyme have emerged, each with minor differences in wording or structure. However, the essence of the rhyme remains relatively consistent.

What is the intended audience for “As I Was Going to St. Ives”?

Nursery rhymes are typically intended for children. “As I Was Going to St. Ives” is no exception, and its playful nature makes it appealing to young minds.

Why do nursery rhymes continue to be popular in modern times?

Nursery rhymes are an essential part of early childhood education, as they help with language development, memory retention, and cognitive skills. Additionally, the nostalgic value for adults keeps these rhymes alive through generations.


The enduring charm of “As I Was Going to St. Ives” lies not just in its catchy rhythm and playful lyrics but in the depth of interpretation it offers. From a simple counting rhyme to a complex allegorical tale, this nursery rhyme continues to captivate young and old minds alike.

As we revisit these classic verses, we find that they are not merely children’s playthings but also windows to explore the human fascination with puzzles, allegory, and the timeless magic of storytelling. “As I Was Going to St. Ives” will undoubtedly remain an enigmatic treasure for generations to come.

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