Thursday, October 3, 2013

"Water Water Wildflower" / "Water Water Wallflower" (singing game examples & comments)

Edited by Azizi Powell

Latest revision: Nov. 8, 2021

This is Part I of a two part pancocojams post about the singing game "Water Water Wallflower" (also known as "Water Water Wildflower" and other similar titles). This post provides information & comments about that singing game. Text examples of that singing game are also included in this post.

Click for Part II of this post. That post showcases a 1926 sound file & a transcription of the singing game "Water Water Wildflower." [That sound file is no longer available as of Nov. 2021.]

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, recreational, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

Example #1: 
From "Children's Street Songs" [hereafter given as Mudcat: Children's Street Songs], posted by Q 09 Sep 04 - 08:55 PM
"There is a lot of documentation on "Water, Water, Wallflowers 2" in the DT.* This game has a long history in the UK and Ireland. Usually it is catalogued under the title "Down She Comes As White As Milk."

In the United States, Newell published this version from New York, in 1883, with music:

Water, water, wild flowers, growing up so high;
We are all young ladies,
And we are sure to die,
Excepting Susie Allen.
She is the finest flower,
Fie, fie, fie for shame;
Turn about and tell your beau's name.
(The girl complying, the ballad proceeds-)

Mister Nobody is a nice young man,
He comes to the door with his hat in his hand.

Down he comes, all dressed in silk,
A rose in her bosom, as white as milk.

She takes off her gloves, she shows me her ring,
Tomorrow, tomorrow, the wedding begins.

Newell, W. W., 1883 (1963, Dover), Games and Songs of American Children, No. 12, pp. 67-68.

Newell commented: "This round is remarkable for being introduced, wherever it occurs, by a stanza with a different melody, whereby the ballad is turned into a game. By this introduction the hero and heroine of the action are selected. ""Little Sally Waters," or "Uncle John," having been first played, the round proceeds about the couple standing in the ring:" At this point, Newell introduces a version of "white as milk" that was played in Massachusetts "before 1800."...
*"DT" = the Digital Tradition. This refers to a collection of lyrics of folk songs (and children's rhymes) that have been posted on the Mudcat Cafe. "Mudcat Cafe" (also known as Mudcat, and Mudcat Discussion Forum) is an online Folk & Blues forum.


1. Water, water wallflower, growing up so high,
We are all maidens, we must all die.
Except ----, she's the youngest of them all;
She can dance, she can sing,
And she can dance the wedding ring [or "Hieland fling"]
Fie! fie! fie for shame!
Turn your back to the wall again.

4. Water, water wallflower, growing up so high,
We are all maidens, and we must all die,
Excepting ----, the youngest of us all,
She can dance and she can sing, and she can knock us all
Fie, fie, fie, for shame,
Turn your back to the wall again.

(2) Nicholson Golspie (1897), 174 (tune, 205); a ring
game: "you skip round hand in hand to air of rhyme". At mention of the girl's name, she has to turn her back to the wall.
(3) Greig FSNE clii.2.
(4) Montgomerie SNR (1946), 64 (no. 68), from Ford CR 75
(who has "wildflower" in line 1); Ford notes:
Forming a ring, all join hands and dance, or move slowly round, singing [the first part above]. Here all clap hands, with the exception of the one named, who stands looking abashed, while the others sing
[the second part]. At the command, she who has been named turns, so that she faces outwards now, with her back to the centre of the ring; though she still clasps hands with those on either side, and continues in the movement, singing with the others. When all in like manner have been chapped out, and are facing the open, the game is finished.

From Google books Journal of American Folklore

Given under "1920 Manners and customs", p.132

[from] Rhea Walker [Pontiac*]

Rhyme – Windflower

1. Water water wind-flower;
growing up so high;
We are all fine ladies;
All expect to die
Except ___ [ name]

2. Shame! Shame! Double Shame!
Turn your back and say your beau’s name [girl complies]
___ is a fine young man,
He comes to the door with his hat in his hand.

3. The bosom of his shirt is as white milk.
Out comes she, all dressed in silk.
She takes of her glove, shows a gold ring.
Tomorrow! Tomorrow! The wedding begins.
* "Pontiac" is a city in the state of  Michigan [USA]


Title - Water Water Wallflower
Contributors - Alexander Smith
Reporters - Dr Emily Lyle

Summary - Water, water, wildflower, growing by the water
We are all children and we must all die
'ceptin [name], the youngest of them aa,
He must dance and he must sing
And he must turn a saucer [do a somersault]
Fy, fy, fy for shame
Turn your back and walk in.

Track Duration (h:m:s) - 00:00:31
Date Recorded - 1977.02.27
Language - Scots
Genre - Song
Collection - School of Scottish Studies

From the 1944 book Playsongs of the Deep South, editor Altona Trent Johns

Water-flower, water-flower,
Growing up so tall,
All the young ladies must surely, surely die;
All except Miss 'Lindy Watkins,
She is everywhere,-
The white folks say, the white folks say,
Turn your back and tell your beau's name.

Doctor, Doctor can you tell
What will make poor 'Lindy well?
She is sick and 'bout to die,
That will make poor Johnnie cry!

Marry, marry, marry, quick!
'Lindy, you are just love sick!

Johnnie is a ver' nice man,
Comes to the door with hat in hand,
Pulls off his gloves and show his rings,
'Morrow is the wedding-day.
In that book, the singing game "Water-flower" is described as a pantomine ring {circle} game with one girl in the middle. The editor indicates that a boy is selected to act out the role of the doctor. The doctor selects the boy whose name "'Lindy" calls out. ions. That boy joins "'Lindy" in the center of the ring and acts out the role of "Johnnie" by performing the actions mentioned in the song.

It's clear that this is an African American adaptation of the British/Anglo-American singing game.

"2026 Mudcat origins question"; posted by Mo the caller, Date: 11 Jun 06 - 01:49 PM

The version my mother sang was -

Wallflowers wallflowers growing up so high
All you young ladies will surely have to die
[Except ----, she's the fairest of them all;
She can dance, she can sing,
And she can wear a wedding ring ]*
Turn, turn, turn again, turn your back to the wall again.

* I made the middle lines up, must have been something like that
A wallflower is an English flower (related to cabbage and radish) that can grow with very little soil, or even out of the cracks of old walls

A wallflower is also a girl without a partner at a dance.

Do you think that the link came before or after this game with its suggestion of dieing an Old Maid? "

From "Water Waterflower/Brickwall Waterfall"
posted by Flash Company [Brian Q], 21 Mar 07 -

Wallflower, wallflower growing up so high,
You are my darling who'll never never die,
Except for Alice Whalley, and she's the only one,
I 'For shame', you 'For shame'
Turn your face to the wall again.

Mid Cheshire version, around since the 19th century, the words above as my mother sang it at school in the 1920's. The words 'For shame' were accompanied by a gesture with both hands, palm outwards as though rejecting someone or something.

The Clancy Brothers in their Carnegie Hall set of kids songs used:-
Wallflowers, wallflowers growing up so high,
I've had the measles I'll never never die,
Call at Tommy Makem's house, he has no relations,
He will tick and tack and turn his back and kiss the congregation.

From Mudcat: Children's Street SongsNeighmond [Chaz], Date: 25 Mar 04 - 04:41 AM

Sadie sunflower, growing up high
as all little girls and boys must die
Except (say a name) Who is the best girl!
Hang down your head in shame!
Tell us girls your lover's name!

(The named girl then tells a name.)

(Boy's name) is a fine young man!
Came to the church with his ring on his hand!
The bride puts on her wedding dress
and (calls the boy?) she loves the best.

Stop the wedding! I am sick!
Call the doctors quick, quick, quick!
Ask the doctor if I'll die
We all die after awhile.
You'll be sorry when I die
for all the times you made me cry.

There are more parts to it but I am lucky I remembered that much.
Note the similarity between the "I am sick/call the doctor quick quick quick" and lines from the African American rhymes known as "Down Down Baby" or "Shimmy Shimmy Coco pa".

Visit that Mudcat discussion thread for at least one other example of "Water Walter Waterflower"/"Water Water Wildflower".

Since at least 2007 when I started the Mudcat discussion thread "Water Waterflower/Brickwall Waterfall" whose link is given above, I've been intrigued about the possibility that the old singing game "Water Water Wallflower" ("Water Water Wallflower") is a source for the title of the contemporary American handclap rhyme "Brickwall Waterfall". Besides the titles, there actually are no other similarities between that 19th century or earlier singing game & that 20th century children's taunting rhyme. But, if the title "Brickwall Waterfall" didn't have its source in the "Water Water Waterfall" singing game title, where did that handclap rhyme/taunting rhyme's title come from?

Also, I was struck by the line "Fie! fie! fie for shame!" that is found in a number of versions of the "Water Water Waterfall" singing games that are re-posted above. Since the words "Shame Shame Shame" are often said at the beginning of such African American derived handclap rhymes as versions of "I Don't Want To Go To Mexico" and "Brickwall Waterfall", I'm very tempted to speculate that that "Shame Shame Shame" had its source in that "fie fie fie for shame" line. But that's probably taking speculation much too far. It's more likely that the use of "shame shame shame" in those handclap rhymes may have started as a shortened, rhythmic way of saying something like "You ougta be ashamed" [about what you did or are doing].

Click that "Water Waterfall/Brick Waterfall" link for examples of "Brickwall Waterfall".

Also, click for examples of & comments about "Brickwall Waterfall".

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