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There Was a Little Girl -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

(Poem #835) There Was a Little Girl
     There was a little girl,
     Who had a little curl,
 Right in the middle of her forehead.
     When she was good,
     She was very good indeed,
 But when she was bad she was horrid.
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Having known and loved and quoted and parodied this little verselet for most
of my life, it came as quite a surprise to see that it was written not by
that most prolific duo, Anon. and Trad., but by the decidedly nonymous

At least I'm not alone in making the mistake - from the UToronto site:

  Longfellow's second son Ernest says of this poem: "It was while walking up
  and down with his second daughter, then a baby in his arms, that my father
  composed and sang to her the well-known lines .... Many people think this
  a Mother-Goose rhyme, but this is the true version and history"


Note, too that the penultimate line is more commonly misquoted "She was
very, very good".


[broken link]


All the Longfellow poems on Minstrels:

  Poem #172 'Paul Revere's Ride'
  Poem #362 'Hiawatha's Departure'
  Poem #629 'The Slave's Dream'
  Poem #717 'The Wreck of the Hesperus'

Plus a couple of Longfellow parodies:
  Poem #559 George A. Strong, 'The Modern Hiawatha'
  Poem #561 Anon., 'The Metre Columbian'


74 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Julian Tepper said...

I prefer, to the girl with the curl, the West that was best, the one who,
when she was bad, was better.

Julian Tepper

Simplygoof said...

My grandmother cited this poem to me when I was a young child as if I were
the little girl. She also purchased a doll with pigtails and the famous
curl, one hand fisted and the other open, that I still have about 36 years

DKemp12942 said...

My Daddy taught this to me when I was a about two years old and once stood me
on the stage at a school event and I recited it. That was 77 years ago, but
I never forgot it.
Dorothy Wilson Kempton

Ian Baillieu said...

I remember long ago hearing a risque parody, the last (6th) line of which went: 'And when she was bad she was marvellous'.

Nance Barbara said...

Does the poem have a second verse? I found another site that did not give
Longfellow credit, and added a second verse.
Thank you.

Barbara B. Nance
Irwin Middle School
Ft. Bragg, NC 28303

S & T Whiteside said...

Hi Jane--Try this: She went to bed / In her little trundle bed / With nobody by for to hinder She screamed.....
Of course, the bed-bed is lame, but that's what MY dad always said. He's 87, can't remember when he didn't know the poem. The rest of us in the family used to tease him when he claimed it was by Longfellow. Dad's laughing last! What other answers have you received?
Hope this is helpful. Sandra

PS When I was a little girl I thought Curlylocks was in her underwear and that her "most emphatic" was a spankable part of her anatomy.

LckJun said...

Our family rendition goes like this:

There was a little girl who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead'
When she was good she was very,very good
But when she was bad she was horrid.

She stood on her head in her little trundle bed
With nobody by for to hinder
She screamed and she squalled and she yelled and she bawled
As she drummed her little feet against the "winder"(window).

Her mother heard the noise and thought it was the boys
Playing in the empty attic
She ran upstairs and caught her unawares,
And spanked her most emphatic!

Amy From Naples FL

What do you think of our version?

renglish said...

My mom would sing this song to us kids and then the grandkids but she sang a different version as well....

Once there was a little girl and she had a little curl
right in the middle of her forehead.
And when she was good
she was awful awful good
but when she was bad she was horrid.

One day she stood on her headie (head)
in her little trundle beddie (bed)
when no one was by for to hinder her
and she kicked and she squawled and she yelled and she bawled
and rubbed her heals against the winder.

Then her mommy her the noise and she thought it was the boys
playing in the empty attic
then she rushed upstairs
grabbed her underwears and spanked her little buttie.

When I had boys I changed it to..... Once there was a little boy and he had a little toy right in the middle of his cradle.... then the rest stayed the same from there.

Dnybylthr said...

There are, indeed, more lines to this poem. If you are able to find any of
the old "Uncle Don's Nursery Rhymes" 78 rpm records from the 1940s, or tapes
or cd copies, you'll hear the entire "There was a little girl" rhyme.
On the same album, there was another rhyme, or the end of the "There was a
little girl" rhyme, that goes, in part,
"Up there I met an old man,
Who would not say his prayers,
So I took him by the left leg,
And I threw him down the stairs!"

As a baby, I used to know all the rhymes on Uncle Don's records, but that
was a long time ago. Yet the words and music remain inside me in bits and

Dr Bryan Sher said...


Diane said...

I've always liked this poem and thought it applied to the human race in general - girls, boys, women, men - young and old. At times the gremlin comes out in us all. The 5th line I have always heard was, "and when she was good she was very, very good." I think the rhyming and the rhythm is improved with this version - the word "indeed" comes out of nowhere.

N H Palmer said...

I was astonished to learn that Google could find this poem-but then, I
didn't know it was by Longfellow.

When I was five or six (1925 - 1926), Santa brought me a gold spring-wound
phonograph that played records probably 6" in diameter. This little song
was on one of the records, with all of the verses included by Jane Gigi
Anderson in her comments above. I could not remember the second verse and
had resorted to friend Google to help. Thanks, Gigi!

If you happen to remember another couple of lines between "Window" and Her
Mother," I'd appreciate it. I wonder where you found those words!

N H Palmer

Kory & Renee Marks said...

My mother sang this to me as a child. I have yet to find anyone who knows
the 2nd verse.

There was a little girl, who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead,
When she was good she was very very good,
But when she was bad she was horrid. day the little girl, brushed away the little curl,
Away from the middle of her forehead,
Now she is good, she's so very very good,
And nobody thinks she is horrid.

I have search out of curiosity and I only see the 1st verse written.
I am a lady in my 50's and my mother is long gone. This is the way she sang

Thanks for your time.

Renee Marks

connie said...

my daughter wants to recite this poem for her class, she knows the 1st verse by heart but she needs the poem to be longer the second verse seems odd or inappropriate from all I have seen except for yours Renee. Thank you

Anonymous said...

There was a little girl,
And she had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good
She was very, very good,
And when she was bad she was horrid.

One day she went upstairs,
When her parents, unawares,
In the kitchen were occupied with meals,
And she stood upon her head
In her little trundle-bed,
And then began hooraying with her heels.

Her mother heard the noise,
And she thought it was the boys
A-playing at a combat in the attic;
But when she climbed the stair,
And found Jemima there,
She took and she did spank her most emphatic.

This was on Wikisource...

crysleh said...

As it appears is true with most people...I had NO IDEA that this poem was by Longfellow! Thanks for clearing that up. :)

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Anonymous said...

My grandmother said this to me as I had naturally curly hair with 2 ringlets in the middle of my forehead & was, at times, very bad indeed!

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Anonymous said...

I have a wonderful memory of my father when I was a kid. We had a copy of The Girl with the Pearl Earring hanging in a gold frame on one of the walls. One day my father saw me staring at it and came and stood next to me and read the poem to me. (I had curly hair) I looked up at him and he was smiling at me and that was a moment I can't forget. Oh probably somewhere around 64 years ago. I enjoyed reading about how it was written. .

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Anonymous said...


In 1963 Brazil was published in an English course done by the BBC in 10 chapters, one of which is called "The course of English pronunciation."

Of its issue and its contents read by English teachers, we see the following:

There was a little girl,
And she had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good
She was very, very good,
But When she was bad she was horrid ..

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