The song, the song, I can’t get rid of the song
You know how a tune works its way into your brain and constantly repeats itself. For Oz, this happened with the amusing diddy, Animal Fair. If you don’t know it, it goes like this:
I went to the animal fair,
The birds and the beasts were there,
The big baboon by the light of the moon
Was combing his auburn hair,
The monkey bumped the skunk,
And sat on the elephant’s trunk;
The elephant sneezed and fell to his knees,
And that was the end of the monk,
(: The monk, the monk, the monk:)
What became of the monk at the animal fair?
There are other versions and variations of lyrics, but I like this one best. The image of a big baboon by the light of the moon combing his auburn hair seems hilarious. Not as funny as the site of an elephant who sneezes and falls on his knees, doing who knows what to the monk, the monk, who in the heck is the monk?
After the paroxysms of laughter, curiosity seizes Oz. Who and why would anyone write such nonsensical verses? And, the monk, the monk, who in the heck is the monk?
The lyrics to the tune first find print in 1898 in the Chicago Record. The occasion is the landing of American troops in Cuba during the Spanish American War. In preparation for the landing, the troops are on deck and lying about, passing the time, singing. The meaning was, I am sure, lost to those who belted out the words. It was nevertheless mesmerizing and uplifting, appropriate for soldiers wondering what is going to happen tomorrow, what is going to become of me?
The tune must be old. It must be an English doggerel, for the refrain constantly asks what became of the monk.
The monk I suppose was the monk that lived in the abbeys across England in the time of King Henry VIII. King Henry we know had six wives, one was not enough because he wanted a son and a son was not what he got until he married Jane Seymour, and having done her duty to king and country, Jane died. The monk, the monk, you ask, what became of the monk? To marry his wives, Henry dissolved the Catholic Church in England and became head of his own church, the Church of England.
By 1542, this “Dissolution” led to the closure of all monasteries and convents in England, and children everywhere asking, “What became of the monk?” Henry himself, exhausted by his marital efforts, died at the age of 55, supposedly uttering these last words:
“Monks! Monks! Monks! What became of the monks?”
The answer to the monks whereabouts
The answer is that most monks kept quiet or simply moved away. Those that spoke out about high-handed Harry were pilloried or executed like London’s Carthusian Martyrs.
In 1886, 18 of these monks were beatified by Pope Leo XIII, perhaps leading to the reemergence of the doggerel, and the occasion for the Chicago Record to print the lyrics.