Ladybug

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Each fall the ladybugs gather in the corners of our house. Whenever I see one, I think of the childhood lines, “Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home. Your house is on fire, your children alone.” This year I realized two things: One, this verse is really quite grim, and two, I wasn’t sure how the rest of it went, though I felt sure that there was more. So, I looked it up and learned a few things along the way. For example, did you know that ladybugs are referred to in Great Britain as “lady birds”? The most common version of the verse, traced back to 1750s England, goes like this:

Ladybird, ladybird fly away home,
Your house is on fire and your children are gone,
All except one,
And her name is Ann,
And she hid under the baking pan.

That ending didn’t sound familiar to me at all! There are many, many versions of this verse, some much grimmer (“your children will burn!”) and there’s also much debate about its origin. Was it chanted by farmers warning ladybugs to flee before burning the fields after the harvest? Was it a warning to pagans to go underground? Was it sung out to warn Catholics who participated in illicit celebrations of Mass in farmer’s fields?

And that isn’t all!  Ladybugs have symmetrical spots, and many cultures consider them lucky. In the Netherlands the ladybug is used as an anti-bullying symbol and to raise awareness for the National Foundation against Senseless Violence. Tiles like this can apparently be found on streets and paths, and sometimes they’re placed at the site of a violent crime.

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I also came across this verse, published in Favorite Poems Old and New, Selected for boys and girls, selected by Helen Ferris. As I read, I was at first charmed but the ending has a darker tone. (For a lucky bug, there don’t seem to be too many happy verses around!)

Lady-bird, Lady-bird, fly away home
the field mouse is gone to her nest
the daisies have shut up their sleepy red eyes
and the birds and the bees are at rest
Lady-bird, Lady-bird, fly away home
the glow worm is lighting her lamp
the dew’s falling fast, and your fine speckled wings
will flag with the close clinging damp
Lady-bird, Lady-bird, fly away home
the fairy bells tinkle afar
make haste or they’ll catch you and harness you fast
with a cobweb to Oberon’s star

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The ladybug pictured above obliging posed for me while climbing on the plant in my bathroom. The black bat-like mark on her “face” made me think of superheroes, while echoes of that childhood verse lingered in my mind. One more not-so-cheery verse for the ladybug!

Valiant ladybird
spreads crimson carapace
soars to the heart of the blaze
to rescue children
who are already long gone

Molly Hogan (c) 2017

This week’s Poetry  Friday Roundup is hosted by Lisa Coughlin at her blog, Steps and Staircases. Make sure to stop by and check out some poetry.

 

16 thoughts on “Ladybug

  1. This is sad, Molly, but I love her “crimson carapace”. Who knew there were so many theories about the origin of the “fly away home..” verse! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • mbhmaine says:

      On reading these comments, I’m realizing that “gone” has several possible meanings in both the original verse and in my poem. I’d thought of it in both as meaning flown away.Hmmmm….perhaps the original verse and my own were darker than I thought!

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  2. I have so, so many trees around my yard that I can’t leave all the leaves as suggested, so when I rake, I have to put them in a big tarp in order to let the ladybugs and other tiny creatures crawl out before bagging. I don’t want to lose any! I love your post from history, Molly, so interesting. I did know about “ladybirds”, the way I first memorized that first rhyme, but the other speculation is new and interesting. Your own picture and poem is lovely, but also dark. I guess we all imagine that tiny insects don’t have long to live, and take them to their end in metaphors. Thanks for all!

    Liked by 1 person

    • mbhmaine says:

      I love the image of all the little bugs crawling off of your leaf tarp! As I noted in my reply to Catherine, I think my poem may have been read a bit more darkly than I’d intended! I had empty nest in mind more than anything else!

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  3. I like this ladybug journey you’ve taken me on. I didn’t know that about Holland. I like your poem. I prefer to think that the ladybird will rescue her little ones.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. margaretsmn says:

    I love how research works. We travel far into it before we realized we’ve been caught in the net again. Thanks for sharing all your gathered information about ladybugs. My favorite is the use of it as a symbol against violence. “spreads crimson carapace” is my favorite line. I just think the word carapace is a fun word. Let me Google it….

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Lisa says:

    Thank you, Molly, for the beautiful photograph and poetic ladybird images you shared. I like the idea of the ladybug as an anti-bullying symbol and the tiles: symbols of protection and strength. I learned a new word through your poem: carapace.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A truly “Valiant ladybird” you’ve shared with us, a mom is always a mom, even after her children have left. I too like your line with “spreads crimson carapace,” and that the ladybug represents nonviolence, thanks Molly.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. maryleehahn says:

    WAH! Lady Bug needs a hopeful verse! (But I’m glad she gets to be a superhero!!)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. […] simple lines and colors in this picture. It inspired me to check out ladybugs and write about them (here). Recently I’ve been adding words to my photos to create haigas (haikus with accompanying […]

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