Scary Rhymes

William Allingham by his wife Helen Allingham

Children’s poetry was always a little frightening when I was growing up.  I was thinking about this recently and I wondered was it because I was a child  and had too much childish imagination or were these poems actually frightening?  So I decided to revisit one and find out….

Giant Golden book of elves and fairies.  Illustration by Garth Williams

A particular  poem ‘Up the Airy Mountains’ or ‘The Fairies’ as it is known used to terrify the wits out of me.  But the terror was actually exciting, something that you looked at through your fingers – an experience to be repeated many times.  This poem still gives me tingles even after all these years.

Up the airy mountain
     Down the rushy glen,
We daren’t go a-hunting,
     For fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk,
     Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
     And white owl’s feather.
Down along the rocky shore
     Some make their home,
They live on crispy pancakes
     Of yellow tide-foam;
Some in the reeds
     Of the black mountain-lake,
With frogs for their watch-dogs,
     All night awake. 

High on the hill-top
     The old King sits;
He is now so old and gray
     He’s nigh lost his wits.
With a bridge of white mist
     Columbkill he crosses,
On his stately journeys
     From Slieveleague to Rosses;
Or going up with music,
     On cold starry nights,
To sup with the Queen,
     Of the gay Northern Lights. 

They stole little Bridget
     For seven years long;
When she came down again
     Her friends were all gone.
They took her lightly back
     Between the night and morrow;
They thought she was fast asleep,
     But she was dead with sorrow.
They have kept her ever since
     Deep within the lake,
On a bed of flag leaves,
     Watching till she wake. 

By the craggy hill-side,
     Through the mosses bare,
They have planted thorn trees
     For pleasure here and there.
Is any man so daring
     As dig them up in spite?
He shall find the thornies set
     In his bed at night. 

Up the airy mountain
     Down the rushy glen,
We daren’t go a-hunting,
     For fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk,
     Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
     And white owl’s feather.

      — William Allingham 

Of all the fairies, its White Owls feather that seems the most dangerous one. I don’t know why though – maybe it’s because the others are colourful and he is just represented as a feather – a menacing feather (silly I know).  The thought of the frogs with their bulging eyes acting as watchdogs gives an indication of how small the fairies are and this ties in with their spitefulness too – planting thorns in peoples beds!  I do quite like the idea of the crispy pancakes made of yellow tide foam though,.  It paints a picture of the tide coming in and when it leaves a small pancake full of bubbles has been delivered. The poor King with his lost wits is bad enough, but when they steal little Bridget – well that’s just a bit too much – a step too far.  They think that she’s fast asleep but she is really dead with sorrow!  What a horrific image this is to a small child!  It makes one terrified to go to sleep (until next time….)  And yet – they do watch over her hoping that she will wake, which makes me believe that they didn’t kill her at least….


William Allingham (1824 – 89) was an established Irish poet, a man of letters who moved in artistic circles and was a friend of D.G. Rossetti. He married Helen Paterson (better known as Helen Allingham, (b. 1848 1926) the artist. She was a Victorian  watercolourist. Her work is unmistakable and much influenced by the Pre Raphaelites.  She worked  first as an illustrator for the Graphic  weekly magazine and  when she got married devoted more of her time to her true love of water colours.  Several of her pictures were admitted to the Royal Academy Summer exhibition 1874 (the Milkmaid and Wait for me).  She later became the first woman to be admitted full membership of the Royal Watercolourist Society in 1875..

the robin by Helen Allingham

More Allingham poems here

 Helen Allingham’s website and pictures here

The Fairies poem here

Lots of stolen fairy children here in these poems

 Lots of poems to read online from the Gutenberg catalogue

Please don’t be offended if I don’t answer your posts for a couple of days, I am away for a few days so have scheduled quite a few posts.  I promise to reply to any comments when I get back.

3 thoughts on “Scary Rhymes

  1. My brother used to read me Christina Rosetti’s Goblin Market when I was young. It still frightens me when I read it as I seem to revert to that little girl again.

  2. I had originally featured Goblin Market with the Faires in this post Ann, but as I was scheduling a few posts, I felt that I couldn’t really do it justice. But I shall feature it by itself. Thanks for visiting – always appreciated.

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