The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #34080   Message #3374813
Posted By: Phil Edwards
11-Jul-12 - 05:03 AM
Thread Name: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
I think Gibb's said all that needs to be said on this one.

...but I can't resist quoting myself (from the link above).

As for "Come down you bunch of roses", it seems to have been based on a West Indian children's game (a singing game with the refrain "Come down with a bunch of roses" was recorded in 1962). Shanty writers worked with whatever was to hand – the not at all family-friendly "Little Sally Racket" also seems to have started life in the playground. Asking what the roses meant is a bit like asking for the meaning of the socks in "While shepherds washed their socks by night" – there was this song, and it got twisted to use as a shanty, and, er, that's it. Having said that, perhaps the appeal of the phrase in this context has to do with the contrast between the flower imagery and the masculine job of hauling on a rope; a shantyman singing "Oh you pinks and posies!" is a bit like a sergeant major saying "Come on, you great fairies, put your backs into it!" (Perhaps we should sing it as "pinks and pansies". Or perhaps not.)