What we called "nursery rhymes" (known in the U. S. as "Mother Goose rhymes") almost always had tunes associated with them. We both knew this unrelentingly sad lament as children. The tiny English "cock" Robin has little in common with the American Robin, the largest of the North American thrushes. Iona and Peter Opie speculate in their classic The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford Univ. Press, 1951) that it may have been a political commentary on Robert Walpole as it was first recorded during his tenure as Prime Minister in 1744. If so, the hard-hitting parody on the death of Marilyn Monroe, "Who Killed Norma Jean?" (Words by Norman Rosten, Music by Pete Seeger, 1963), maintained that usage.
Who killed Cock Robin?
I, said the sparrow, with my bow and arrow, I killed Cock Robin.
Who saw him die?
I, said the fly, with my little eye, I saw him die.
All the birds of the air fell a-sighing and a-sobbing
When they heard of the death of poor Cock Robin,
When they heard of the death of poor Cock Robin.
Who'll catch his blood?
I, said the fish, with my little dish, I'll catch his blood.
Who'll make his shroud?
I, said the beetle, with my little needle, I'll make his shroud.
Who'll toll the bell?
I, said the bull, because I can pull, I'll toll the bell.
Who'll dig his grave?
I, said the owl, with my little trowel, I'll dig his grave.
Who'll be the clerk?
I, said the lark, if it's not in the dark, I'll be the clerk.
Who'll carry the coffin?
I, said the kite, if it's not in the night, I'll carry the coffin.
Who'll bear the pall?
I, said the wren, both the cock and the hen, we'll bear the pall.
Who'll sing the psalm?
I, said the thrush, as she sat in the bush, I'll sing the psalm.
Who'll be the parson?
I, said the rook, with my little book, I'll be the parson.
Who'll be chief mourner?
I, said the dove, I'll mourn for my love, I'll be chief mourner.