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1001 Stories Collection

A Wise Old Owl

1001 Wise Old Owl Ronan Furuta
Added on 31st July 2020

Oral tradition Nursery Rhyme


A nursery rhyme with a moral.


A wise old owl teaches the value of silence.

Why we chose it

A Wise Old Owl was one of the nursery rhymes chosen by Helen Cooper to feature on the mural in Time for Bed, now recreated in Small Worlds.

Where it came from

Owls have long been associated with wisdom. In ancient Greece Athena, goddess of Wisdom had a screech owl as a companion. In fact owls have rather small brains and geese, crows and ravens are all more intelligent.

The rhyme appeared in print in the mid 19thcentury with versions in both Britain and America and was probably used to teach children the benefit of silence.

Where it went next

In America it was a favourite of both John D Rockefeller and President Calvin Coolidge early in the 20th century. The rhyme and the moral were both used in World War One to discourage potential dangerous talking. In World War Two a post for the United States displayed the rhyme and added the line, ‘Soldier be like that wise old bird’ with the caption ‘Silence means security’.

Associated stories

Owls are popular characters in books for children and are often portrayed as the wisest creature. Owl in Winnie the Pooh is perhaps not as wise as he thinks he is. In the fourth Narnia story, The Silver Chair, Eustace and Jill are taken to the parliament of owls for advice. A recurring character in the Little Grey Rabbit stories is the often grumpy Wise Owl.

Find the owl on the mural in Small Worlds.

Added on 31st July 2020

Oral tradition Nursery Rhyme