Most nursery rhymes and fairy tales have a disturbing background and meaning. So when my siblings and I were lying around in my room and we started singing ‘Row your Boat’, I figured it’d have some demented origin. Like rowing to your doom, being drowned or being forced down a path to your own beheading.
Surprisingly, this one has a good meaning. And when I looked it up, I was smacking my forehead. Because I already knew what it was a metaphor for. What can I say? Sometimes I forget it’s not all burning people to death and water dragons.
Duh. I love the meaning behind this nursery rhyme.
It’s a metaphor for life. We all agree on that. But there are multiple theories on how to break it down, what each object and line mean.
There are two main ideologies and a few random thoughts on specific verses.
Your boat = your life.
The stream = time. Water is always moving, so is time.
Row, row, row = you’re constantly rowing, constantly moving through life, constantly working at it. You don’t just row for a little while and then rest. Uh-uh. No breaks. No rests. Life. Keep moving.
Gently = It’s not a race. You aren’t racing toward the end – um, your death –are you? Gently row through life, don’t hurry. It’s the trip (life) not the destination (death).
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily = attitude, personality, character. How you look at things, positive versus negative, optimist versus pessimist. Be happy, be passionate on the way. They say attitude is everything. Enjoy your life, enjoy the ride.
Life is but a dream = Dream or nightmare, we have the ability to choose what our life will be. We cannot decide what happens, but we can decide who we are, what we become, how we react, how we cope. It’s our life, our dream. And our choice.
Boat = body. It’s the vessel for your movement, changes, growth, learning, development, awareness.
Row, row, row = you have to work for what you want in life, have to apply effort to get where you want to go. Unless you row, your boat won’t go anywhere. Be careful of distractions that could pull you away from your goal. But don’t be so focused, have such blinders on, that you don’t remain open to change, to life, to possibilities.
Gently down the stream = let go of the past, move toward your future. Row gently because to push or force or fight the natural direction your life is leading you will only create stress and upset.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily = you may already have it hard. Don’t make it worse. Water can be rough but you can get through. A negative attitude will not help, in fact, it will make things worse. Use the challenges you face to make you a better person.
Life is but a dream = touches on the dreamlike state of reality. The world is physical around us, yet thoughts and emotions change, shift, alter, transmutation making something less physical, solid. Dreamlike.
- Row, row, row your boat:
You have to row your own boat. No one else’s. Don’t try to control other people. Control yourself.
Rowing takes skill. Practice makes perfect.
When someone is rowing on their own, it implicates free will and the choices they make that decide which paths they take.
When rowing with others, it touches on the need to work together, in unity to reach the intended goal.
- Gently down the stream:
Force creates resistance. Don’t resist if you can flow along with the water’s natural path and make something of it. This is different than fighting the challenges, the bumpy stream’s road.
- Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily:
Take challenges in stride, meet them with a joyous attitude and a smile. Go with the flow.
This is not a rehearsal, not a dry run, not a trial run before the real thing. This is the real thing. You might as well enjoy it. Don’t waste time being upset longer than need be or by holding grudges when you could be happy instead.
- Life is but a dream:
So stop making it a nightmare.
It has religious overtones of how life is simply the dream before the consequences/rewards.
Life is only a dream, not real. Everything you do is meaningless. (I don’t like this one.)
Life is a short moment. Only a dream when compared to our eternal soul’s existence.
With that in mind, remember that it’s talking about your life for a reason. Ask yourself;
Row, row, row your boat.
Where are you going? Are you headed where you want to be headed? Are you working for what you want? Are you trying to control someone else’s life (with good or bad intentions)? Are you trying to control things you know you can’t/shouldn’t? Are you trying to race through your life? Are you learning, growing, achieving what you want? Are you open to positive change? Open to new paths?
Gently down the stream.
Are you fighting things for the sake of fighting them? Are you fighting for what you believe in without being cruel or self-destructive? Do you approach your life with hope? Have you worked through and let go of your past? Are you enjoying the journey, the process, whatever it is that you’re doing right now? Are you hurrying through things you could instead be enjoying? Are you flexible when things change? Do you adapt well to change?
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily.
Are you happy? Why or why not? Are you holding grudges or focusing on the negative to the point that you’re creating your own heartache? Are you approaching things with a positive attitude? Do you try to find the silver lining? Are you passionate about what you’re doing? Are you aware that regardless of trials, pain, suffering and challenges, there is always hope?
Life is but a dream.
There are three definitions of a dream :
1: “a succession of images, thoughts, or emotions passing through the mind during sleep.”
2: “a vision voluntarily indulged in while awake; daydream; reverie.” “an idea or vision that is created in your imagination and that is not real”
3: “something that you have wanted very much to do, be, or have for a long time”
Are you helping your life to be a dream or a nightmare? How can your life be more dreamlike; what would you need to do/achieve/change to shape your life into a dream – your dream? Are you making the right choices for yourself? If your life is a nightmare, what can you do to work toward bettering it?
“Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.”
Just remember: Water is rough but boats are tough.
What does this rhyme mean to you? Do you have a favorite metaphor?