Do You Need To Be A Mathematician To Go To St. Ives?

I have to ask this. Did anybody else get driven crazy by the St. Ives song when they were kids? Or was it just me?

As I was going to St. Ives,
I met a man with seven wives,
Each wife had seven sacks,
Each sack had seven cats,
Each cat had seven kits:
Kits, cats, sacks, and wives,
How many were there going to St. Ives?

Some copies of the record gave the answer, but mine did not. So I tried, and tried, and tried to figure it out. Then I would curse myself saying “It’s a kids’ song, there has to be a way to do this!”

There was, dipshit. Only one guy was going to St. Ives. Since he met the others, they were coming the other way. But I assumed they ran into each other and started chatting on their way to St. Ives, and I strained my brain for so much time and then would give up, sometimes thinking “I must be such a dumb kid. This is a kids’ song! There has to be a way and I just haven’t found it!”

I wish I had heard this other verse which Wikipedia says exists in its page on the rhyme.

Why the deuce do you give yourselves so much vexation,
And puzzle your brains with a long calculation
Of the number of cats, with their kittens and sacks,
Which went to St Ives, on the old women’s backs,
As you seem to suppose? — Don’t you see that the cunning
Old Querist went only? — The rest were all coming.
But grant the wives went too, — as sure’s they were married,
Eight only could go, — for the rest were all carried.

I might have been confused by some of the words, but I wouldn’t have spent so much time trying to do impossible number-crunching.

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1 Comment

  1. I asked the Google mini how many were going and it offered two answers. Either 1 or “precisely 2800.” I guess she didn’t want to take a 100% firm stand on such a controversial issue, but it’s pretty hard to argue that the use of “precisely” isn’t pretty solid ammo for the more than one crowd.

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