April 16, 2020

P is for Puddle

        (My theme for this year’s April A to Z Blog Challenge is traditional English language nursery rhymes, and their block printed illustrations.)

Doctor Foster went to Gloucester in a shower of rain.
He stepped in a puddle up to his middle and never went there again.

        He spent the whole evening huddled in blankets, and in the morning his shoes were still soggy.
        A puddle three or four feet deep certainly seems excessive.  It could have been an epic pothole in the middle of the road, but I suspect that Dr Foster was traipsing cross-country, trying to take a short-cut in the rain.  He must have encountered something that shouldn’t even  properly be called a puddle; perhaps it was really more of a small pool or an ornamental fishpond or even a shallow well.  He didn’t like to admit that he was actually trespassing in someone’s garden when he fell into their goldfish pool, so he just told everyone it was a puddle.  What we don’t know, in that case, is whether the final line means that he never went to Gloucester again, or whether it means he learned his lesson about shortcuts and never went into that family’s garden again.
        There would be three obvious points in the story to illustrate: before stepping into the puddle, mid-action of the plunge, or standing in water up to his middle.  A number of the older ones simply show a man walking in the rain, and I wonder whether in a few cases at least that was so that the publishers could reuse some previous wood block of a man in the rain that they already had in stock.  Today’s third example may be one of that type, but I like it anyway because of its interesting texture: the straight lines of the rain, contrasted with the mottled pattern on the man’s clothes where he’s getting wet.  On the whole, though, more interesting are those illustrations that make a bigger deal of the puddle.  In the first one here he’s only up to his ankle, so perhaps the next step will suddenly get deeper.
        The second illustration makes more fun of the poor doctor, with his hat and wig blowing off, and his umbrella turned inside-out.  On the other hand, perhaps that really shows him in a better light because it offers an excuse for his distraction, giving a plausible reason for him to step straight into the puddle.  Most illustrations depict a fairly small puddle and one has to wonder why Dr Foster couldn’t have just walked around instead of through.  (This piece, by the way, is not a relief print.  It’s just done with pen and ink, but it does have a bit of a block-printy vibe with its large areas of black on white and white on black.)
        Many American editions spell the place Glo’ster to make sure that people pronounce it correctly for the rhyme.  (And we also have to pronounce a-gane to rhyme with rain.)  As for history, as usual people have tried to come up with explanations for the rhyme’s origins, and as usual there’s no evidence for any of the theories (and evidence against some).  However, the idea I find most entertaining is that it refers to Doctor Faustus, who (in Christopher Marlowe’s play of around 1590) plays a magical trick on another character causing him to be dehorsed in the middle of a river.  No, this is hardly a direct parallel to the “plot” of the nursery rhyme, so most likely it’s another baseless theory, but it would be fun if there actually were magic involved in this very mundane scene!
        What’s your most inconvenient experience while traveling?
        A final note for impressionable children: Put on your boots and go ahead and enjoy stomping in puddles.

[Pictures: Detail from Nursery Rhymes, wood engraving by Gwenda Morgan, 1970 (Image from Kevis House);
Illustration by J.F. Goodridge from Mother Goose Rhymes with Silhouette Illustrations, 1879 (Image from International Children’s Digital Library);
Wood block print from Rhymes for the Nursery, published by Kiggins & Kellogg, 1848 (Image from Internet Archive).]


Sue Bursztynski said...

Oh, I’ve been caught in puddles all right, if not up to the waist! Puddles I couldn’t walk around, without walking halfway down the street, as they were on the road. And yes, my umbrella turned inside out!

Some nice pictures there, Anne!

Kathe W. said...

Hah! I'd never heard this poem before! Been in many a puddle myself if not a muddle! Cheers! Enjoying your A to Z!

A Tarkabarka Hölgy said...

This is how I learned to pronounce Gloucester in elementary school ESL class... :D

The Multicolored Diary

Frédérique said...

I like the second illustration! I guess puddles are a great theme for nursery rhymes, stepping into them is so fun for a kid ;)
P is for Pojagi

Jenny said...

Wet socks and/or shoes make me so miserable that I completely sympathize with the poor doctor who is wet up to his waist! And I love the idea of finding magic in this little rhyme. I bet there's more of that going on in old poems and stories than we know!

Deborah Weber said...

This is a new tale to me, and it has me smiling as does your commentary. I think I may have to argue with you though - I'm pretty sure we have potholes that would have poor Dr. Foster submerged up to his neck. But I do rather like the idea he mis-stepped into a goldfish pond and then tried metaphorically to cover his tracks. Fun post indeed!

Jade Li said...

I like how you get "into" the rhymes and give your impressions and postulations.

Shari Elder said...

My most inconvenient experience also pertains to rain. I was in Denmark and it rained every single day I was there. We were constantly wet and did things like going to movies sometimes just to get out of the wet. Seeing an English movie in Denmark was not on my to do list when planning the trip. I actually like the third one best, maybe because the focus is on the rain.

J.S. Pailly said...

Maybe the lesson is you don't really know how deep a puddle is until you've stepped in it?

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

J.S., that is an excellent moral. In fact, your comment is quite deep! ;)

Shari and Jenny, I agree, rain while travelling is no fun, especially when the shoes never get dry.

Sue, it's true that you can get surprisingly wet, even with a relatively shallow puddle. I, too, have encountered many a puddle that could not be avoided.

Deborah, you will have to wear a life vest every time you go for a walk in the rain!

Thanks for all the comments. I enjoy hearing everyone's points of view.

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

New rhyme! Thanks for sharing :-)

An A-Z of Faerie: Moon