Cock Robin is dead and cold in his grave,
Oo-ah, cold in his grave.
They planted an apple tree over his head,
Mm-ah, over his head.
When apples were ripe an’ ready to drop,
Ah-ah, ready to drop.
There came an old woman to pick ’em all up,
Oo-ah, pick ’em all up.
Cock Robin rose up an’ gave ’er a knock,
Mm-ah, gave ’er a knock,
Which made the old woman go hickerty-hop,
The apples were upped an’ put on a shelf,
Mm-ah, put on a shelf.
If yer want any more yer can sing it yerself.
Oo-oo-ah, sing it yerself.
This is a traditional song
The last stanza is a commonplace appended to a wide variety of catalogue songs.
Mostly found as a children’s singing game, this old song is widespread in the English-speaking world under a wide variety of titles, usually a man’s name preceded by ‘Old’ or ‘Poor’. The commonest names are Roger, Robin, Johnny, Grimes, Grumble and even Oliver Cromwell. A host of versions and useful notes can be found in Alice B Gomme’s The Traditional Games of England, Scotland, and Ireland, Thames and Hudson, 1984 (1894), Vol 2, pp16-24. The most common title in Britain is Gomme’s master title, Old Roger is Dead. It is found in other parts of Yorkshire with this title. Curiously the Cock Robin version is not found elsewhere in Yorkshire, but it turns up not far away in Derbyshire. Cecil Sharp found Cock Robin versions in Somerset, Cambridgeshire, Gloucestershire, Devon and Kent, and it turns up in America in Vermont and Florida.
It has been conjectured by some scholars that the old woman is being punished by the ghost for stealing the apples therefore desecrating the grave. It certainly seems to link up to other ideas in folklore and balladry where plants sprout out of graves and do magical things.