Green Grow the Rushes, O

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I'll sing you one, O
Green grow the rushes, O
What is your one, O?
One is one, and all alone,
And ever more shall be so.

2. I'll sing you two, O
Green grow the rushes, O
What are your two, O?
Two, two lily-white boys
Clothed all in green, O
One is one, and all alone,
And ever more shall be so.

3. I'll sing you three, O
Green grow the rushes, O
What are your three, O?
Three, three arrivals!
Two, two lily-white boys
Clothed all in green, O
One is one, and all alone,
And ever more shall be so.

4. I'll sing you four, O
Green grow the rushes, O
What are your four, O?
Four for the gospel-makers,
Three, three arrivals!
Two, two lily-white boys
Clothed all in green, O
One is one, and all alone,
And ever more shall be so.

5. I'll sing you five, O
Green grow the rushes, O
What are your five, O?
Five for the symbols at your door, and
Four for the gospel-makers,
Three, three arrivals!
Two, two lily-white boys
Clothed all in green, O
One is one, and all alone,
And ever more shall be so.

6. I'll sing you six, O
Green grow the rushes, O
What are your six, O?
Six for the six proud walkers,
Five for the symbols at your door, and
Four for the gospel-makers,
Three, three arrivals!
Two, two lily-white boys
Clothed all in green, O
One is one, and all alone,
And ever more shall be so.

7. I'll sing you seven, O
Green grow the rushes, O
What are your seven, O?
Seven for the seven stars in the sky, and
Six for the six proud walkers,
Five for the symbols at your door, and
Four for the gospel-makers,
Three, three arrivals!
Two, two lily-white boys
Clothed all in green, O
One is one, and all alone,
And ever more shall be so.

8. I'll sing you eight, O
Green grow the rushes, O
What are your eight, O?
Eight for the April rainers,
Seven for the seven stars in the sky, and
Six for the six proud walkers,
Five for the symbols at your door, and
Four for the gospel-makers,
Three, three arrivals!
Two, two lily-white boys
Clothed all in green, O
One is one, and all alone,
And ever more shall be so.

9. I'll sing you nine, O
Green grow the rushes, O
What are your nine, O?
Nine for the nine bright shiners,
Eight for the April rainers,
Seven for the seven stars in the sky, and
Six for the six proud walkers,
Five for the symbols at your door, and
Four for the gospel-makers,
Three, three arrivals!
Two, two lily-white boys
Clothed all in green, O
One is one, and all alone,
And ever more shall be so.

10. I'll sing you ten, O
Green grow the rushes, O
What are your ten, O?
Ten for the Ten Commandments,
Nine for the nine bright shiners,
Eight for the April rainers,
Seven for the seven stars in the sky, and
Six for the six proud walkers,
Five for the symbols at your door, and
Four for the gospel-makers,
Three, three arrivals!
Two, two lily-white boys
Clothed all in green, O
One is one, and all alone,
And ever more shall be so.

11. I'll sing you eleven, O
Green grow the rushes, O
What are your eleven, O?
Eleven for the eleven who went to heaven, and
Ten for the Ten Commandments,
Nine for the nine bright shiners,
Eight for the April rainers,
Seven for the seven stars in the sky, and
Six for the six proud walkers,
Five for the symbols at your door, and
Four for the gospel-makers,
Three, three arrivals!
Two, two lily-white boys
Clothed all in green, O
One is one, and all alone,
And ever more shall be so.

12. I'll sing you twelve, O
Green grow the rushes, O
What are your twelve, O?
Twelve for the twelve apostles,
Eleven for the eleven who went to heaven, and
Ten for the Ten Commandments,
Nine for the nine bright shiners,
Eight for the April rainers,
Seven for the seven stars in the sky, and
Six for the six proud walkers,
Five for the symbols at your door, and
Four for the gospel-makers,
Three, three arrivals!
Two, two lily-white boys
Clothed all in green, O
One is one, and all alone,
And ever more shall be so.


I learned this song from my father, who grew up in Southern England, but I don't know who he learned it from. It is the best of the counting songs, of which he knew several, and which we as a family used to sing to while away the time on long car journeys. I know nothing of the origins of the song, although I would guess that it is very old - seventeenth or perhaps even sixteenth century. We do not even understand all the references. Some are clear enough, and we have guessed at others, but the rest have mystified my sister and me all our lives. If anyone can explain these, I would be most interested to hear from them.

Here is our provisional gloss:

  1. One is one, and all alone,[PARA]And ever more shall be so. The One God or the one world.
  2. Two, two lily-white boys? From Veronica Biggs: the holly and the ivy.
  3. Three, three arrivals - Probably the three Magi?(E-Mail says "refers to the Trinity"). Again from Veronica, the "three RIVALS". There are three mountains in Wales known by that name.
  4. Four for the gospel-makers - Self-explanatory.
  5. Five for the symbols at your door - Probably refers to the instruments. From Veronica, "..people used to put pentagrams on their doors to ward off evil".
  6. Six for the six proud walkers? From Veronica, "proud walkers was the name given to certain members of Saxon warbands assigned to walk around the perimeter of the campe before a battle, on stilts and banging their spears on their shields.
  7. Seven for the seven stars in the sky? (Mail says: "a quote from Revelations"). From Veronica, "the Big Dipper, or possibly Orion; seven stars in the sky could be the Pleiades, which used to be known as the Seven Sisters".
  8. Eight for the April rainers? (Oxford dictionary says: "eight brave rangers")
  9. Nine for the nine bright shiners? From Veronica, "...may refer to the phases of the moon. It is a triad of triads; very powerful in Pagan tradition."
  10. Ten for the Ten Commandments - Self-explanatory.
  11. Eleven for the eleven who went to heaven - Could this refer to St. Ursula and her eleven thousand maidens? (Mail says: "eleven apostles minus Judas")
  12. Twelve for the twelve apostles - Self-explanatory.
With best wishes,
Yours sincerely
Miriam J. Court

With thanks to Veronica Biggs for her helpful suggestions, and a special thanks to Carl Olson for his definitive e-mail. See A New Dial for the relationship of these two songs and his enlightening commentary.

I saw your gloss on this song and I must disagree with quite a bit of it. It is mediaeval in origin and appears to be mostly Christian symbolism.

12 disciples -- easy
11 who went to heaven. the 12 disciples without Judas
10 commandments -- easy
9 bright shiners -- might be the 9 orders of angels
8 april rainers - ???
7 stars in the sky -- see Revlations chapter 1 where Jesus is portrayed surrounded by 7 stars representing the 7 early churches.
6 proud walkers -- See Ezekiel chapter 9(?). These are the 6 men with drawn swords who accompanied the man with the writer's inkhorn
5 symbols at your door -- I have heard an explanation, but unfortunately
I cannot remember it. It deals with mediaeval symbolism.
4 Gospel makers -- easy
3 rivals (of God) -- See Revelations again. The rivals are the beast whose number is 666.
2 lily white boys -- again mediaeval religious symbolism, but I can't remember just what.
1 is god Himself.
- with thanks to "Raph".

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