The Singing Hoosiers Lyrics Follow

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly (also known as I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly and There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly) is a children's rhyme and nonsense song of a kind known as cumulative. The song tells the nonsensical story of an old woman who swallowed increasingly large animals, each to catch the previously swallowed animal, but died after swallowing a horse. The humour of the song stems from the absurdity that the woman is able to inexplicably and impossibly swallow animals of preposterous sizes without dying, suggesting that she is both superhuman and immortal; however, the addition of a horse is finally enough to kill her. Her inability to survive after swallowing the horse is an event that abruptly and unexpectedly applies real-world logic to the song, directly contradicting her formerly established logic-defying animal-swallowing capability.
There are many variations of phrasing in the lyrics, especially for the description of swallowing each animal. The spider and fly are described in each verse, but the other animals are only described when they are introduced starting with the bird. Three versions of the rhyme were collected in the journal Hoosier Folklore in December 1947, beginning respectively "There was an old lady — she swallowed a fly", "Poor little old lady, she swallowed a fly" and "A little old lady swallowed a fly". All three list the progression from fly to spider, bird, cat, dog and cow, finishing with the horse, with variations to the rhymes for each animal. The definitive version was written by Rose Bonne (lyrics) and Canadian/English folk artist Alan Mills and copyrighted in 1952. At that time it was entitled simply "I Know an Old Lady." A widely distributed version of the song was released on Brunswick Records in 1953, where it was sung by Burl Ives. Ives' rendition appears on his album, Folk Songs, Dramatic and Humorous—which debuted in late summer, 1953. The 1961 illustrated book by Rose Bonne also indicates that the lyrics are hers, whereas the music was composed by Alan Mills.

Source: Wikipedia


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