Navigate / search

Peter Put His Wife WHERE?

The other night I was reading to my children from a book of Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes.  I know what you are thinking.  How very Norman Rockwell of us.  And for a while it was.  Until we got to the one about Peter the pumpkin eater.

I’d heard it before, it wasn’t new to me.  When you read from a book of Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes, you come across some that clearly never caught on. Maybe they just weren’t catchy enough.  Or perhaps they were filled with too many British references to be relevant in the United States.

But not Peter the pumpkin eater.  This one was familiar.  However, the other night was quite possibly the first time I read the nursery rhyme as an adult.  In case it’s been a while for you as well, I’ve included the words below.

Peter, Peter pumpkin eater,
Had a wife but couldn’t keep her;
He put her in a pumpkin shell
And there he kept her very well.

Excuse me?

I have a few problems with this.  First of all, why couldn’t he keep his wife?  You know what my theory is?  I think she called him out on all the pumpkin he was eating.  I think she got sick of making pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pie and maybe the occasional pumpkin spice latte. She probably confronted him and said “Look Peter, I think it’s time we tried something not pumpkin.  I was thinking maybe I could make an apple pie tonight?  I’m just really getting sick of pumpkin.”

She probably didn’t even see it coming. One minute she’s in the kitchen, cutting up some apples, the next minute she’s being gagged, blindfolded and stuffed in a pumpkin.

On second thought, how did she not see this coming?  Was she not suspicious when Peter came home with an exceptionally large pumpkin that day?  And just how thick was the shell of this pumpkin.  How could she not just push her way out from the hole that he cut to put her in the pumpkin, unless she was…Oh dear.  This rhyme just took a very dark turn.

My second problem with this nursery rhyme is that it was even published in the first place.  What editor let this one pass? It doesn’t even teach a lesson.  Unless, of course, the lesson is to stay away from pumpkin eaters because they are crazy.  But I still don’t get it.

So I did a little research.  I found the official Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater Wikipedia page and discovered that those were not the original lines of the rhyme.  In fact, they original words didn’t even mention a pumpkin. However, one could argue that the original lines are even worse:

Peter, my neeper,
Had a wife,
And he couidna’ keep her,
He pat her i’ the wa’,
And lat a’ the mice eat her.

I don’t even know that the last two lines mean, but I did make out “the mice eat her.” I see why they decided to add in the part about the pumpkins.  Makes Peter look a little less like a psycho killer.

Moral of the story: stay away from Mother Goose.


Sue Hyer

Honestly Susan, you should write a comedy book! You are so insightful and really quite hilarious!


I think the last two lines say:
“He put her in the wall,
And let all the mice eat her”