Simple Simon poem

Simple Simon met a pieman going to the fair;
Said Simple Simon to the pieman "Let me taste your ware"
Said the pieman to Simple Simon "Show me first your penny"
Said Simple Simon to the pieman "Sir, I have not any!"

Simple Simon went a-fishing for to catch a whale;
All the water he had got was in his mother's pail.
Simple Simon went to look if plums grew on a thistle;
He pricked his fingers very much which made poor Simon whistle.
He went for water in a sieve but soon it all fell through;
And now poor Simple Simon bids you all "Adieu".


What does "a-" stand for in "a-fishing"? Is it a sort of determiner?

tkacka15What does "a-" stand for in "a-fishing"? Is it a sort of determiner?

No, it is just a very old style, no longer in use:

a- : in the act or process of: gone a-hunting, a-tingle.


It's also a handy way of inserting an unstressed syllable into a line of poetry to fit the metre of the verse.

Without it, 'Simple Simon went fishing for to catch a whale' doesn't flow properly.

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Thank you for the reply.


By the way, the only verb form the "a-" is ever used with is the -ing form. I found the last sentence of the following text very interesting.

From the American Heritage Dictionary:

Prefixing a - to verb forms ending in - ing, as in a-hunting and a-fishing, was once fairly common in vernacular US speech, particularly in the highland areas of the South and in the Southwest. Such verb forms derive from an Old English construction in which a preposition, usually on, was placed in front of a verbal noun — a verb to which - ing had been added to indicate that the action was extended or ongoing. Gradually such prepositions were shortened to a -. The - ing forms came to be regarded as present participles rather than verbal nouns, and the use of a - was extended to genuine present participles. Eventually a- disappeared from many dialects, including Standard English in the United States and Great Britain, although it is still retained today in some isolated dialect areas. Today, speakers who use the a - prefix do not use it randomly. Rather, a - is only used with - ing words that begin with a consonant, have stress on the first syllable, and function as part of a verb phrase, as in She was a-running.


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 Rover_KE's reply was promoted to an answer.
Rover_KEWithout it, 'Simple Simon went fishing for to catch a whale' doesn't flow properly.

I wonder if the 'for' in 'for to' also has to do with preserving the meter.

At any rate, where else can you find poetry with a thistle-whistlerhyme? Emotion: smile