Behind The Meaning of “Rain, Rain, Go Away”

You know the saying, “March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers?” It’s that time of the year again and, though those rainy days are essential, too many in a row might have you humming the familiar tune of “Rain, Rain, Go Away.”

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It may not always help ward off a storm, but singing We want to go outside and play / Come again some other day has been a staple for children the world over for decades—perhaps even centuries.

Who first coined the phrase “Rain, Rain, Go Away?” We’ve uncovered the winding history of the rhyme, below.

Behind The Meaning

The version of “Rain, Rain, Go Away” we all know can be dated back to at least the 17th century when historian James Howell included it in his collection of proverbs. Around the same era (1687), writer John Aubrey noted a similar version used by “little children” to help “charm away the rain” that read, Rain, Rain, Go Away. Come Again on Saturday.

Though the tune we still sing today can be attributed to those two Englishmen, similar rhyming couplets have been found in societies all around the world, including ancient Greece and ancient Rome. It seems no one is immune to the rainy day blues.

Though the want for better weather is universal enough, the actual origin of the rhyme is far more consequential.

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Many historians date Howell’s version (which is generally considered the original) back to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England. At the time there was a rivalry between England and Spain, with the later empire planning to invade England with an armada of ships.

In 1588, the Spanish set sail with over 130 ships. Despite the impressive numbers, the English had faster ships, which came in handy when a huge storm hit the ocean. The Spaniards were forced to turn and head back home, making England the victors.

In Howell’s version of the tune, he added a line that read Rain, Rain, Go To Spain / Never Show Your Face Again as a nod to the fateful encounter between the two armies.

As with many nursery rhymes, the message has been passed down through generations and consequently has evolved like a centuries-long game of telephone. Howell’s original rhyme scheme made way for a far-less combative version: We want to go outside and play.

Revisit the song, below.

Rain, rain, go away
Come again some other day
We want to go outside and play
Come again some other day

Legacy In Pop Culture

“Rain, Rain, Go Away” is so omnipresent that it feels like we were born knowing it. It’s almost impossible to pinpoint the first time you heard this rhyme. That will likely be the experience of many generations to come given how pervasive the rhyme still is today.

Everyone from the Sesame Street gang to Peppa Pig has recorded versions of “Rain, Rain, Go Away.”

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It has even been the inspiration behind songs outside of the children’s music space. In 1963, Bobby Vinton recorded a song of the same name that made use of the titular rhyme. Vinton aged up the lyrics by adding elements of heartbreak. When it started raining / You started crying too / That was the first time / I sang this song to you / Rain rain go away, he sings.


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