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Cumulative Songs

This subject came up recently because of Sue Barnard’s poem based on the cumulative song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, about which Wikipedia says:

“The Twelve Days of Christmas” is a cumulative song, meaning that each verse is built on top of the previous verses.

I had heard this song before, but I think I need to know more about it in order to understand Sue’s poem.

Nevertheless, it got me thinking about all the cumulative songs I know.

These are the ones I remember:

  • Green Leaves Grew All Around
  • Green Grow the Rushes, O
  • There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly

And two songs we sing at the Passover seder:

  • Chad Gadya, a song in Aramaic that tells the story of one little goat.
  • Echad Mi Yodea, which, like Green Grow the Rushes, O, allocates an object to each number.

Apparently cumulative songs are popular with choirs because the words are easy to remember. I certainly remember the words of those Passover songs.

Do you have any favourite cumulative songs?

By Miriam Drori

Author, editor, attempter of this thing called life.

4 replies on “Cumulative Songs”

Five little ducks went swimming one day – not cumulative as the numbers decrease at first. Ten green bottles is similar as is There were ten in the bed. Other number songs are This old man, he played one, and One, two, three, four, five, once I caught a fish alive.
I don’t suppose either of these is cumulative in the way The twelve days of Christmas is.
Sue

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