Spanking in poetry

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The subject of spanking is found not only in prose, but also in all kinds of poetry. Spanking verse describes poetic work that is primarily spanking focused. But there is also poetry that has its focus elsewhere and just contains a brief reference to spanking.

Spanking as a metaphor[edit]

Illustration for the nursery rhyme "There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe".

Often, especially in old poetry, the motif of spanking is used as a symbol for something else. For example, consider the well-known nursery rhyme:

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe,
She had so many children she didn't know what to do;
She gave them some broth without any bread;
Then whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.

According to one interpretation, the "shoe" is (southern) Italy and the "old woman" represents rural members of the Catholic Church who lived in great poverty. Partly due to the Church's position on birth control, these people often had a great number of children, resulting in malnutrition and, not uncommonly, domestic violence. So the verse criticizes the Catholic Church.

Another interpretation says the "shoe" stands for the British Isles, the "old woman" is Parliament, and the "many children" are the colonies of the British Empire. Parliament "whipped her misbehaving children" by appointing the much-hated James I to the throne.

Other examples[edit]

"Hooraying with her heels".

Another example is the well-known rhyme

There was a little girl,
And she had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good
She was very, very good,
And when she was bad she was horrid.
One day she went upstairs,
When her parents, unawares,
In the kitchen were occupied with meals,
And she stood upon her head
In her little trundle-bed,
And then began hooraying with her heels.
Her mother heard the noise,
And she thought it was the boys
A-playing at a combat in the attic;
But when she climbed the stair,
And found Jemima there,
She took and she did spank her most emphatic.
(by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807-1882)

Here is another example:

Burns, Robert, 1759-1796: A Waukrife Minnie (Wakeful Mother)

'Whare are you gaun, my bonie lass?
Whare are you gaun, my hinnie?'
She answer'd me right saucilie:
'An errand for my minnie!'
'O, whare live ye, my bonie lass?
O, whare live ye, my hinnie?'
'By yon burnside, gin ye maun ken,
In a wee house wi' my minnie!'
But I foor up the glen at e'en
To see my bonie lassie,
And lang before the grey morn cam
She was na hauf sae saucy
O, weary fa' the waukrife cock,
And the foumart lay his crawin!
He wauken'd the auld wife frae her sleep
A wee blink or the dawin.
An angry wife I wat she raise,
And o'er the bed she brought her,
And wi' a meikle hazel-rung
She made her a weel-pay'd dochter
'O, fare-thee-weel, my bonie lass!
O, fare-thee-weel, my hinnie!
Thou art a gay and a bonie lass,
But thou has a waukrife minnie!

There are also spanking references in "The Third Tour of Doctor Syntax in Search of a Wife" by William Combe (1742-1823), available from the Internet Archive at [1].

Mrs Briskit, one of the ladies by whom the eponymous hero is romantically smitten, is frisky and flippant and she plays a joke on him. She arranges for a bevy of chaperoned beauties to call simultaneously for a romantic parley. The Doctor, realising what has happened, instructs his trusty Irish manservant Patrick to throw the ladies out. The spanking references are in the triplet from lines 15 to 17 and in the three couplets from lines 24 to 29.

"Pat, turn these beldames out I pray,
Make them, make them brush away,
By any means, or smooth or rough,
I care not how you get them off."
Says Pat, " I hear, Sir, your commands, (5)
I'll take the ladies off your hands!
And now I beg, my pretty dears,
That you will lay aside your fears;
I'll do your ladyship no harm,
I'll kiss you well, and make you warm. (10)
So come along my sweetest honeys,
For love like mine hates ceremonies."
He kept his word with no small bustling,
Muslins were torn, and silks were rustling,
And as they glided tow'rds the stair, (15)
He smack'd and clapp'd each passing fair,
But the muse must not mention where.
Pat, who was now in all his glory
Thus hurried onward with his story.
"Sir, as the party went down stairs (20)
With frowning looks and humbled airs,
And halted on the landing-places,
To brush up their disorder'd graces,
I bid them send their Mrs. Briskit
Just to visit us and frisk it, (25)
As we had a rod in pickling,
To give her fancy such a tickling,
That with all her fine pretences,
Would soon restore her to her senses.

See also[edit]