“As I was going to St. Ives” is a nursery rhyme in the form of a puzzle, the earliest version of which was published in 1730. Depending on how the question in the final line is interpreted, the answer is either zero or one. If the question is “How many kits, cats, sacks, and wives were going to St. Ives?” the answer is none, as the only one identified as going to St. Ives is the “I” of the narrator.[1]

As I was going to St. Ives,
I met a man with seven wives,
Each wife had seven sacks,
Each sack had seven cats,
Each cat had seven kits,
Kits, cats, sacks, and wives,
How many were there going to St. Ives?

It is generally considered that the rhyme refers to St Ives in Cornwall, although it has been argued that it was St Ives in Cambridgeshire, an ancient market town and therefore perhaps an equally plausible destination.[2]

The rhyme adopts the form of a geometric progression,[a]A geometric progression is a sequence of non-zero numbers where each term after the first is found by multiplying the previous one by a fixed, non-zero number, in this case seven. seen earlier in the Ancient Egyptian Rhind Mathematical Papyrus,[b]Named after the Scottish lawyer A. H. Rhind who acquired the papyrus in Thebes, now Luxor, in about 1858.[3] a probable mathematics textbook dating from about 1550 BCE,[3] containing a very similar puzzle:[1]

In a village there are seven houses,
And each house has seven cats,
And each cat kills seven mice,
And each mouse would have eaten seven grains of corn,
And each grain of corn would have produced seven hekats.[c]The hekat is an Ancient Egyptian measure of volume, equivalent to about 4.8 litres.[4]
What is the total of all these?




Hudson, Noel. St. Ives, Slepe by the Ouse. St Ives Town Council, 1989.
Opie, Iona, and Peter Opie. Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes. 2nd ed., Oxford University Press, 1997.
Zapassky, Elena, et al. “An Ancient Relation between Units of Length and Volume Based on a Sphere.” PLoS ONE, vol. 7, no. 3, Mar. 2012.