One for Sorrow (nursery rhyme)

One for Sorrow (nursery rhyme)
"One for Sorrow"
Roud #20096
Magpie arp.jpg
A magpie
Written by Traditional
Published c. 1780
Written England
Language English
Form Nursery rhyme

"One for Sorrow" is a traditional children's nursery rhyme about magpies. According to an old superstition, the number of magpies one sees determines if one will have bad luck or not. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 20096.



There is considerable variation in the lyrics used. The following is perhaps the most common modern version:

One for sorrow
Two for joy
Three for a girl
Four for a boy
Five for silver
Six for gold
Seven for a secret, never to be told
Eight for a wish
Nine for a kiss
Ten for a bird you must not miss


The rhyme has its origins in superstitions connected with magpies, considered a bird of ill omen in some cultures, and in England, at least as far back as the early sixteenth century.[1] The rhyme was first recorded around 1780 in a note in John Brand's Observations on Popular Antiquitites on Lincolnshire with the lyric:

One for sorrow,
Two for mirth,
Three for a wedding,
And four for death.[1]

One of the earliest versions to extend this was published, with variations, in M. A. Denham's Proverbs and Popular Saying of the Seasons (London, 1846):

One for sorrow,
Two for luck; (or mirth)
Three for a wedding,
Four for death; (or birth)
Five for silver,
Six for gold;
Seven for a secret,
Not to be told;
Eight for heaven,
Nine for [hell]
And ten for the d[evi]l's own sell![1]

On occasion, jackdaws, crows, bluebirds, and other Corvidae are associated with the rhyme, particularly in America where magpies are less common.[2] Blackbirds have also been used in place of magpies (probably due to their coloring), though they belong to the family Turdidae.

In popular culture

  • A version of the rhyme was used as the theme music to the British TV programme Magpie in the 1960s and 70s.[3]
  • The rhyme was quoted for counting crows in the 1989 film Signs of Life.[3]
  • The band Counting Crows took their name from the version in the film Signs of Life.[3] The rhyme itself is referenced in their song "A Murder of One", from the album August and Everything After.
  • All of the preceding variations are used by different characters in Terry Pratchett's novel Carpe Jugulum, wherein the antagonists, a family of vampires, take the form of magpies.
  • A version of the rhyme was partly used for Patrick Wolf's song "Magpie".
  • A version of the rhyme was partly used for RebekkaMaria's song "Pica Pica".
  • A version of the rhyme was partly used for Band Of Skulls's song "Patterns".
  • A version of the rhyme was partly used for Corinne Bailey Rae's song "Choux Pastry Heart".
  • A version of the rhyme was partly recited by the character Eric in The Crow.
  • A version of the rhyme was recited by the character Ashe in The Crow: City of Angels.
  • A version of the rhyme was recited by the character Eve in The Sandman: Parliament of Rooks, and later reprised by Delirium in The Sandman: The Wake.
  • The rhyme is featured in the book The Seven Magpies by the late Monica Hughes, where it is a big part of the plot.
  • Finnish melodic death metal band, Insomnium named their fifth studio album after the poem.
  • Terry Pratchett uses the ryhme and a variant version in the book Carpe Jugulum.


  1. ^ a b c I. Opie and M. Tatem, eds, A Dictionary of Superstitions (Oxford University Press, 1989), pp. 235-6.
  2. ^ J. M. Marzluff, A. Angell, P. R. Ehrlich, In the Company of Crows and Ravens (Yale University Press, 2007), p. 127.
  3. ^ a b c D. Wilson, Rock Formations: Categorical Answers to How Band Names Were Formed (Cidermill Books, 2004), p. 21.


  • Binney, Ruth (2004). Wise Words and Country Ways: Traditional Advice and Whether It Works Today. David & Charles. pp. 223. ISBN 0715318462. 

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