The House That Jack Built

The Legacy of Jack the Carpenter

Jack may not have been an architect, but it is usually assumed that he was the farmer/carpenter that built the ‘house’ (which is clearly a barn), rather than just the owner that did not even help during construction. If Jack was just the owner, it most likely would be “The House That Jack Owned”, or “The Home of Jack”, or “Jack’s House”. Also if Jack was the carpenter who built the barn on a farm, it was likely that he was also a farmer; as building timber frame structures is part of the agrarian legacy.

Regardless there is an architecture to the story, as it builds upon itself. Each verse becomes larger than the previous, as it includes all lines that were established prior. This narrative story type is called cumulative chain.

Even though it is a rhyme usually spoken, it is also listed as a folk song (Roud Index). There are Jewish and Arabic medieval examples, that predate nursery rhymes. Other popular cumulative chain songs to build upon previous lines are: “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” and “The Twelve Days of Christmas“.

THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT

Original with Jack as carpenter-farmer

Mother Goose nursery rhyme from the 1500-1600s

Classified as an Aarne-Thompson cumulative chain tale

*

This is the house that Jack built.

This is the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.

This is the rat,
That ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.

This is the cat,
That killed the rat,
That ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.

This is the dog,
That worried the cat,
That killed the rat,
That ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.

This is the cow with the crumpled horn,
That tossed the dog,
That worried the cat,
That killed the rat,
That ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.

This is the maiden all forlorn,
That milked the cow with the crumpled horn,
That tossed the dog,
That worried the cat,
That killed the rat,
That ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.

This is the man all tattered and torn,
That kissed the maiden all forlorn,
That milked the cow with the crumpled horn,
That tossed the dog,
That worried the cat,
That killed the rat,
That ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.

This is the priest all shaven and shorn,
That married the man all tattered and torn,
That kissed the maiden all forlorn,
That milked the cow with the crumpled horn,
That tossed the dog,
That worried the cat,
That killed the rat,
That ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.

This is the cock that crowed in the morn,
That waked the priest all shaven and shorn,
That married the man all tattered and torn,
That kissed the maiden all forlorn,
That milked the cow with the crumpled horn,
That tossed the dog,
That worried the cat,
That killed the rat,
That ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.

This is the farmer Jack sowing his corn,
That kept the cock that crowed in the morn,
That waked the priest all shaven and shorn,
That married the man all tattered and torn,
That kissed the maiden all forlorn,
That milked the cow with the crumpled horn,
That tossed the dog,
That worried the cat,
That killed the rat,
That ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.

*

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