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London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down,
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair lady.

Build It Up With Sticks and Stones, 
Sticks and Stones, 
Sticks and Stones. 
Build It Up With Sticks and Stones, 
My Fair Lady. 

Sticks and Stones Will All Fall Down, 
All Fall Down All Fall Down, 
Sticks and Stones Will All Fall Down, 
My Fair Lady. 

Build It Up With Wood and Clay, 
Wood and Clay Wood and Clay, 
Build It Up With Wood and Clay, 
My Fair Lady.

Wood and Clay Will Wash Away, 
Wash Away, 
Wash Away. 
Wood and Clay Will Wash Away, 
My Fair Lady.

Build It Up With Iron and Steel, 
Iron and Steel, 
Iron and Steel, 
Build It Up With Iron and Steel, 
My Fair Lady. 

Iron and Steel Will Bend and Bow, 
Bend and Bow, 
Bend and Bow, 
Iron and Steel Will Bend and Bow, 
My Fair Lady.

Built it up with silver and gold,
Silver and gold, silver and gold,
Built it up with silver and gold,
My fair lady. 

Gold and silver I have none,
I have none, I have none,
Gold and silver I have none,
My fair lady.

Build It Up With Bricks of Shaw, 
Bricks So Sure, 
Bricks So Sure, 
Build It Up With Bricks of Shaw, 
My Fair Lady. 

It Will Stand For Ever More, 
Ever More, 
Ever More, 
It Will Stand For Ever More, 
My Fair Lady.

 

Right away, we’re confronted with calamity.  London bridge is falling down.  Present tense, like, right this second, while we’re watching.  No one tells us how or why, but the suddenness of destruction suggests the bridge has been attacked, or otherwise struck, with great force.

Why does the narrator report on this disaster in real time?  It seems as though the Fair Lady addressed throughout the poem is not present to witness the event.  Further, it’s clear from the speaker’s repeated specificity in referencing London Bridge (and not just “the bridge”), the Lady isn’t from London.

This is a correspondence between long-distance lovers.  Evidence pops up at the end of every stanza, where the reporter invokes “My Fair Lady.”  The singer (gender never specified, but I’ll be using the default “he”) means this in a personal rather than a feudal/professional way: he dictates the terms of her duties, not visa versa, in telling her how to rebuild.  Yet he admits in a later stanza to having no gold or silver, so we couldn’t mistake him for a high-ranking adviser in a noble Lady’s court.  He also fixates on her physical appearance, declaring her “fair” every chance he gets.

So who is this Lady?

Her construction skills are unparalleled.  Her boyfriend believes her capable of single-handedly rebuilding London Bridge, the formation of which has taken armies decades.  She can work with any material – sticks and stones, iron and steel, gold and silver.  Nothing is beyond her.  To call her powerful would be an understatement – the broad has magic.  Her lover calls her “Fair.”

It’s written plain as day: She’s one of the Fair Folk in long-ago England.  An elf, a faery.  Capable of working wood and clay and metal into breathtaking structures, great and small.  (Indeed, some of the structures the narrator describes would have to be small; a gold-and-silver bridge, for example, couldn’t span the Thames unless designed to accommodate the tiny and light-footed.  There isn’t enough gold in existence to produce a human-sized version.)

The old London Bridge must have served as the rendezvous for our presumed-Londonite songster and his Fair lady.  Consistent with numerous legends, any type of bridge retains a special power for facilitating meetings between magic folk and mortals.  When it falls right before our songster’s eyes, it’s difficult not to leap to the conclusion that this was an act of destruction brought on by bigotry.  It’s entirely possible that it fell for no other reason than that someone determined to put an end to their inter-racial romance.

What follows is a litany of instructions – fit to a tune, rhyming, and repeating, as though shouted at a messenger with poor memory and a short attention span.  Such as a bird.  (You know how some fairy-tale characters can talk to birds.)  Important points are reiterated again and again.

Please note how stupid some of the bridge designs are in terms of connecting commerce on both sides of the Thames.  We have no evidence that our narrator has political pull in his own kingdom, and, as he spent a whole stanza reminding his lady, he’s got no gold.  The elf-dame wouldn’t even have been considered a citizen of the realm, so neither of them are likely to get permits or permissions for these construction projects.  But then, the narrator doesn’t really care about commerce; he’s love-struck.  The bridge is still falling while he’s talking – he only wants to see his girl again.

Forget your preconceptions that the narrator is spewing a series of half-baked plans, quickly retracted.   He’s not stupid.  His broke mortal ass had to have some saving grace to get an elf’s attention, after all.  If anything, he’s an architectural genius – he and his lady bonded, literally and figuratively, over bridgework.  So when he tells her to build it up with sticks and stones, then tells her the sticks and stones are going to fall, rest assured that they’re supposed to fall.

If you listen carefully, the bridge he’s describing is a project of singular design, and perfectly sound.  Its sole purpose is to join the elfin world to the mortal one.  Step one in this bridge-between worlds is something made of sticks and stones.  Natural ingredients.  Woodsy ingredients.  Incongruent, imprecise building materials.  No binding agent mentioned.  The finished product is bound to resemble a pile of brush more so than an actual piece of architecture.  How can these sticks and stones fall down, when they’re already on the ground?

Easily enough, if they’re covering a hole.

Next comes a creation of clay and wood, designed to wash away.  But this is inside of a hole in the ground.  The only way anything washes away from a hole is if the hole connects to a subterranean river.  The kind of clay and wood construction that can then float away is what you’d call a boat.

Now you want a structure of iron and steel, expected to bend and bow.  This requires a rather large edifice, standing erect and maintaining contact with the warping elements of sun and wind.  It must connect to the underground river-passage; so it’s a staircase, winding its way up to at least the level of tree tops, where the elves are said to live.

At this point we introduce silver and gold.  It seems likely that this is the portion of bridge meant to connect on the fairy end (we know from every legend that the fair folk prefer these materials, and, as mentioned before, such a bridge can best support fairy feet).  A magical atmosphere would also be necessary to protect such a structure from mortal wear-and-tear.

But, that’s not where this grand vision ends.  The narrator goes on to recommend an artifice be built in that land that will stand forever.  As the silver and gold seem to have completed the bridge into the fairy world, this may be a castle or other dwelling intended for the fair lady.  She is, after all, the one he wishes to find at the end.

All nice and well, but what are these, “Bricks of Shaw,” which eerily no one on the internet can say for sure what they are?

Except for me.

“Shaw” is old English; it used to refer to a copse or thicket, a patch of forest.  “Bricks of forest” aren’t a thing, though.  And if you’re dating a chick whose whole society lives in the woods and is best friends with trees and animals, forest bricks should especially not be a thing.

But it’s a thing in the narrator’s mind.

You see, this architect had a first love, long before his Fair Lady.  Her name?  The London Bridge.  After its callous destruction, his plans include revenge against the magical people who wrecked it (he knows magic when he sees it.  No mortal force destroyed that glory).  The final portion of his plan is a building made from the mashed-together corpses of fairies and the animals and plants they know as family.

Rather nasty, considering he’s speaking to an elf.  And it never seems to occur to him she might not be down for this.  But that’s par for the course in their relationship: right along, he’s been barking orders at her, showing no consideration for her feelings or thoughts. His final vision has her dwelling for evermore among the desecrated remains of everyone she knows and loves – a life of quiet isolation, awaiting his visitation.

Honestly, we should have seen this coming.  The dude gave us plenty of clues that he was creepy.  Fetishizing her race, for starters – he dropped the word “fair” 11 times, but never once her name.  He can’t get through the end of a stanza without reminding her that she’s his lady, always expecting her to do his bidding with no questions asked.  And he wasn’t even subtle about hitting her up for a solid bridge’s weight in precious metal.

So whoever blew up the bridge maybe had their reasons, after all.

I bet it was her.  Knowing she was in over her head, that she couldn’t end the relationship by sheer force of will, she had to destroy her own access to the mortal world.  She killed the thing he loved the most – thus, symbolically and forever, taking down their common ground.

Case resolutely closed.