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Row, Row, Row Your Boat

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Title: Row, Row, Row Your Boat  
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Subject: Eliphalet Oram Lyte, Canon (music), List of nursery rhymes, Round (music), Match Game
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Row, Row, Row Your Boat

"Row, Row, Row Your Boat"
Roud #19236
Written USA
Published 1852
Form Nursery rhyme
Writer Traditional
Language English

"Row, Row, Row Your Boat" is an English language nursery rhyme and a popular children's song, often sung as a round. About this sound Play   It can also be an "action' nursery rhyme, whose singers sit opposite one another and "row" forwards and backwards with joined hands. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 19236.


  • Lyrics 1
  • Origins 2
  • Additional or alternative verses 3
  • In popular culture 4
    • Film 4.1
    • Literature 4.2
    • Stage productions 4.3
    • Television 4.4
  • Notes and references 5


The most common modern version is:

Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.


Children play "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" at a kindergarten

It has been suggested that the song may have originally arisen out of American minstrelsy.[1] The earliest printing of the song is from 1852, when the lyrics were published with similar lyrics to those used today, but with a very different tune.[1] It was reprinted again two years later with the same lyrics and another tune. The modern tune was first recorded with the lyrics in 1881, mentioning Eliphalet Oram Lyte in The Franklin Square Song Collection but not making it clear whether he was the composer or adapter.[1]

Additional or alternative verses

People often add additional verses, a form of children's street culture, with the intent of either extending the song or (especially in the case of more irreverent versions) to make it funny, parody it, or substitute another sensibility for the perceived innocent one of the original.[2] Versions include:

Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
If you see an alligator,
Don't forget to scream.
Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Throw your teacher overboard
And listen to her scream.[3]
Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Ha ha, fooled ya,
I'm a submarine.[4]

In popular culture

The song has been used extensively in popular culture, often to reflect existential questions about reality. For example:



  • It was sung at the start of Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966).
  • In the film Dirty Harry (1971), the main villain Scorpio hijacks a school bus and forces the children to sing the rhyme.[5][6]
  • In the film Troll 2 (1990), the main characters, the Waits family, sing the song during their car journey to the town of Nilbog.
  • It was sung in the film Dante's Peak (1997).
  • Samantha Morton quoted it in the film Code 46 (2003)
  • In the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), the song is used on the soundtrack and by Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) as they try to hide from the memory erasers, reflecting issues of the importance of memory to reality.[7]


Stage productions

  • The 1947 Broadway revue Angels in the Wings included an elaboration entitled, "The Thousand Islands Song".[9]


  • General Melchett sang an alternative version of the song in a "Captain Cook" Episode 1 of Blackadder Goes Forth.
  • In Fringe, the character Walter, whilst in a mental institute, remarks that he sometimes hears someone whistling the song but is not sure if it is in fact himself whistling.[10] and later in the same episode refers to his time in the hospital as like being asleep.
  • Jimmy Fallon sang the song on his March 2013 Late Night With Jimmy Fallon program, along with Justin Timberlake and Michael McDonald. Fallon and Timberlake are dressed as McDonald, with white wigs and beards. The song is sung in a round, and then the segment is closed with a "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" jam.[11]
  • It is the main child song used in HBO's series such as Oz, Deadwood, and AMC's Breaking Bad. The song was also used in the movie Insidious: Chapter 2.
  • In 2011, the new MTV series Teen Wolf began using a darker, more edgy version of the song as its theme song.[12]

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b c Studwell, S. M. (1997). The Americana Song Reader. New York: Haworth Press. p. 82.  
  2. ^ Johnson, B. & Cloonan, M. (2009). Dark Side of the Tune: Popular Music and Violence. Aldershot: Ashgate. p. 98.  
  3. ^ Lightfoot, C. (1997). The Culture of Adolescent Risk-Taking Culture and Human Development. New York: Guilford Press. p. 78.  
  4. ^ "Row Row Row Your Boat 2 Kind". Songs for Teaching. 
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Walters, James (2008). Alternative Worlds in Hollywood Cinema: Resonance Between Realms. Intellect Books. p. 94.  
  8. ^ Iaccino, J. F. (1998). Jungian Reflections within the Cinema: a Psychological Analysis of Sci-fi and Fantasy Archetypes. London: Greenwood. p. 28.  
  9. ^ "The 1000 Islands Admiralty". Retrieved 2014-09-26. 
  10. ^ "Fringe Pilot Script" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-04-07. 
  11. ^ Mason, Phil (2011). Developers. 
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