Old Mother Hubbard

By special request today, Mother Goose will analyze a most curious nursery rhyme. Old Mother Hubbard was first published in 1805. I feel I must warn you that it is a long rhyme and fairly disturbing. Please click away if you take offense at dogs impersonating humans. In modern vernacular, let’s break it down. Here is the poem in its entirety:

Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard,
To give the poor dog a bone:
When she came there,
The cupboard was bare,
And so the poor dog had none.

She went to the baker’s
To buy him some bread;
When she came back
The dog was dead!

She went to the undertaker’s
To buy him a coffin;
When she came back
The dog was laughing.

She took a clean dish
to get him some tripe;
When she came back
He was smoking his pipe.

She went to the alehouse
To get him some beer;
When she came back
The dog sat in a chair.

She went to the tavern
For white wine and red;
When she came back
The dog stood on his head.

She went to the fruiterer’s
To buy him some fruit;
When she came back
He was playing the flute.

She went to the tailor’s
To buy him a coat;
When she came back
He was riding a goat.

She went to the hatter’s
To buy him a hat;
When she came back
He was feeding her cat.

She went to the barber’s
To buy him a wig
When she came back
He was dancing a jig.

She went to the cobbler’s
To buy him some shoes;
When she came back
He was reading the news.

She went to the sempstress
To buy him some linen;
When she came back
The dog was spinning.

She went to the hosier’s
To buy him some hose;
When she came back
He was dressed in his clothes.

The Dame made a curtsy,
The dog made a bow;
The Dame said, Your servant;
The dog said, Bow-wow.

This wonderful dog
Was Dame Hubbard’s delight,
He could read, he could dance,
He could sing, he could write;
She gave him rich dainties
Whenever he fed,
And erected this monument
When he was dead.

Many of Mother Goose’s readers are dog owners and many are cat owners. Some have birds, some have fish. Some, like Mother Goose, have all of these and more. The one thing that we know for sure about pets is that they require a certain degree of care. You have probably noted the extreme amount of care that Old Mother Hubbard is showing her dog in this poem, and undoubtedly you can relate to the attitude of “whatever it takes” to keep the pup happy.

Image courtesy of the good folks at Wikipedia

My first observation is that the poor old woman had nothing at all in her pantry. Not a bag of oatmeal, not a cracker, not a bag of beans. No canned venison or tomatoes. Not a can of spam. No flour for baking bread. Now this is abject poverty, dear and gentle reader. Not a scrap of food for herself or anyone else in the home. And what did she do? Did she run out and get herself some groceries? No, she goes to the bakery to buy something for the dog to eat — a loaf of bread. Strange times and strange food for the family pet…

Well, and then the dog begins his tricks. He plays dead — she has to go out and buy a coffin for him. She gets home, and there he is just as alive as she is! Miraculous recovery or is he just messin’ with her?

It gets more and more bizarre… tripe, beer, wine red and white, some fruit. I feel so very overwhelmed at the oddity of her dogfood choices. And how the dog responds is not common at all — at least not at Mother Goose’s home. The dog is smoking a pipe, sitting in her chair, standing on his head, playing the flute. If I came home and found Fran doing these things, I would faint away. My heart, my heart…. and speaking of Fran, she never complains about eating Pedigree. It’s easy to purchase at the store and easy to serve.

And then it becomes very obvious what the problem is — Old Mother Hubbard has Alzheimer’s Disease. This is suddenly some of the saddest poetry I’ve ever read. She has mistakenly identified her dog as her long-departed husband, Old Father Hubbard! She buys her dog a coat, a hat and a wig — he responds not with much tail-wagging and barking, but by riding a goat, feeding her cat and dancing a jig. She has confused the dog with her late husband, and now lives out her grief by dressing him in some fancy finery and feeding him all the special delicacies and sweeties that Old Father Hubbard used to enjoy.

Her disorientation grows day by day. The wardrobe becomes more and more fine as she attempts to turn the pup into her beloved Hubbard. Buckled shoes, silken stockings, linen for his shirt. Nothing is too extravagant for this case of mistaken identity and Old Mother Hubbard. She curtsies, the hound bows. She is his servant, and he is the master of the house at long last.

All the wonders of the dog — his reading, his dancing — and I tell you, dear reader, he knew. He knew how sick and disturbed Mother Hubbard was, and YET he continued his little charade. He could have been decent and gotten her some help for the dementia. Obviously, the dog could communicate — he should have done something for his dear mistress. But no, not this pup. He’s taking all the dainties and treats that he can from this poor old woman.

Mother Goose is very distressed at what she has learned today about Old Mother Hubbard and her dog. I hope that I haven’t upset you too much. Try not to think about it….

And bee blessed. 🙂

Thankfully borrowed from Wikipedia

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March 2023