“Green Grow the Rushes-O (The Twelve Apostles, Come and I Will Sing You)”


Cumulative song with religious themes e.g., "I'll sing you three-o/Green grow the rushes-o/What is your three-o/Three for the Hebrew children/Two, two, the lily-white babes/clothed all in green-o/One is one and all alone and evermore shall be so."


This is a song cluster extending as far as the Jewish Passover service, but whether it passed from there to folk song or vice versa is hard to say. -PJS (Sharp and Marson connects it with the Hebrew ritual "Counting the Omer/Song of the Kid" ; Newell links it to the Passover chant "Echod Mi Yodea," a connection supported by Cohen; Archer Taylor tried to link it to Sanskrit roots! - RBW)

[Compare also the American piece "Children Go Where I Send Thee." Botkin prints a text of that song] from a 1942 field recording and remarks:

"The present cumulative song is a version of 'The Carol of the Twelve Numbers' (often known as 'The Dilly Song'). There is a good deal of variation in the symbolism of the twelve numbers, and in the present song their significance has often been lost.

"For texts and notes, see 'The Twelve Apostles,' by Phillips Barry, _Bulletin of the Folk-Song Society of the Northeast_, Number 9 (1935), pp. 3-4; 'Ballads and Songs,' by George Lyman Kittredge, _Journal of American Folklore_, Volume XXX (July-September, 1917), pp. 335-337; 'The Carol of the Twelve Numbers,' by William Wells Newell, ibid., Volume IV (July-September, 1891), pp. 215-220; and 'The Carol of the Twelve Numbers,' by Leah Rachel Clara Yoffie, _Southern Folklore Quarterly_, Volume IV (June, 1940), pp. 73-75." - NR

Not to be confused with Burns's "Green Grow the Rashes-O," or with the "Green Grows the Laurel/Lilacs" family.

The Cornish words printed by Kennedy are by Talek and Ylewyth; they are translated from an English version, though Kennedy lists versions in other languages.

Some people consider this to be a variation of "Children Go Where I Send Thee"; since I'm not sure, I split them.

It might be noted that, although the sense of this song is religious, many of the references are in no sense Biblical. The following annotated version will demonstrate the point:

I'll sing you one, O

Green grow the rushes, O

What is your one, O

One is one and all alone and evermore shall be so. -- Refers to God or Jesus or both

Two, two, lily-white boys, clothed all in green, O -- Non-biblical

Three, three, the rivals -- Who knows what this refers to? Not explicitly Biblical. The "three" may be the Trinity

Four for the gospel makers -- Matthew, Mark, Luke John

Five for the symbols at your door -- ritual, not Biblical. (Though five could represent the five books of Moses)

Six for the six proud walkers -- Got me (Brown A has "Firemen in the boat." Which doesn't help. Brown B has "ferrymen in the boat," which sounds rather like Charon)

Seven for the seven stars in the sky -- I'd blame this on J.R.R. Tolkien if it weren't so old. :-) (These would be the Pleiades, important to agricultural peoples as a sign of spring and planting season. - PJS)

Eight for the April rainers -- Another ritual oddity (Brown: Eight archangels. Most traditions say there are *seven* archangels, though the Bible doesn't name them all and the Koran gives a different list. The figure eight might be the seven plus an unknown "head of the order")

Nine for the nine bright shiners -- Ditto (Brown: Nine is the night that the star shone bright!)

Ten for the Ten Commandments -- Ex. 20:2-17; Deut. 5:6-21

Eleven for the eleven who went to heaven -- The Twelve Disciples (Matt. 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 10:14-16; Acts 1:13), less Judas Iscariot

Twelve for the twelve Apostles -- same as the above, with either Judas or Matthias (Acts 1:23-26) added. - RBW

Cross references


  • Patrick Gaffney, "Green Grow the Rushes Oh" (Columbia 350-D, 1925)


  1. SharpAp 207, "The Ten Commandments" (5 texts, 3 tunes)
  2. Sharp-100E 97, "The Ten Commandments" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Randolph 605, "The Twelve Apostles" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. Randolph/Cohen, pp. 425-429, "The Twelve Apostles" (1 text, 1 tune -- Randolph's 605)
  5. BrownII 50, "The Dilly Song" (2 texts; the first starts with the number 5!)
  6. JHCoxIIB, #17, pp. 159-162, "The Twelve Apostles" (1 text, 1 tune, somewhat conjectural)
  7. Flanders/Brown, pp. 83-85, "The Twelve Apostles" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
  8. Gardner/Chickering 150, "The Twelve Apostles" (1 text)
  9. Fuson, p. 187, "Scripture in the Nursery" (1 text)
  10. Abrahams/Foss, pp. 74-75, "I'll Sing You One Ho!" (1 text, 1 tune)
  11. Kennedy 88, "Dus Ha My A Gan Dhys (Come and I Will Sing You)" (1 Cornish text, 1 tune)
  12. Greenleaf/Mansfield 41, "The Twelve Apostles" (2 texts)
  13. Peacock, pp. 800-801, "The Twelve Apostles" (1 text, 1 tune)
  14. Karpeles-Newfoundland 89, "The Twelve Apostles" (1 text, 1 tune)
  15. Lehr/Best 23, "Come and I Will Sing You" (1 text, 1 tune)
  16. Silber-FSWB, p. 359, "Green Grow the Rushes" (1 text)
  17. DT, GRNRUSH* (see also GRNRUSH2) GRNRUSH5
  18. ADDITIONAL: Walter de la Mare, _Come Hither_, revised edition, 1928, notes to #258, ("What will be our twelve, boys") (1 text)
  19. Roud #133
  20. BI, ShH97


Alternate titles: “Singing the Ten Commandments”; “Holy Babe”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1823 (Sandys, _Christmas Carols--Ancient and Modern_)
Found in: Britain(England,Scotland),US(Ap,MA,MW,NE,SE,So) Canada(Newf)