I've always liked this song, but in the last few years I've wondered if the "true love" wasn't sending subtle messages by his choice of gifts.
After all, his lady received not one but a total of twelve partridges in pear trees (1 x 12 days = 12). Did he think she needed to plant a pear orchard? Did he hope she'd invite him over for roast partridge or scrambled partridge eggs?
Those two cooing turtle doves became twenty-two (2 x 11 days = 22). Either he's sending another culinary message or he really doesn't understand what a MESS all these birds will make. He should have given her a subscription to the New York Times so she'd have plenty of cage liners.
Three French hens (3 x 10 days = 30). Why French hens? Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds are proven egg-layers, if that was his intention. These 30 messy, less-productive hens will merely add to the cacophony of noise, loose feathers, and droppings, driving our poor heroine to tears.
Four calling birds (4 x 9 days = 36). What is a "calling" bird? From what I've been able to discover, the word was originally "colly" or "collie" which means black, so probably blackbirds. Hmm, maybe this "true love" is the same guy who tried to bake "four and twenty blackbirds" in a pie for the king, but his oven wasn't hot enough and the birds began to sing. I can't imagine blackbirds could sing very well.
Five gold rings (5 x 8 days = 40). At first glance you might think the true love has finally redeemed himself. After all, the poor lady can keep one and sell the other 39 to pay for the birds' upkeep. But why did he give her 40 rings? Maybe he's a burglar and robbed a jewelry store. If he was wealthy enough to purchase 40 gold rings (a small 14K one might be found for $200, so that's $8,000 at least) he certainly could have given her something more practical than flocks and flocks of messy birds.
Six geese-a-laying (6 x 7 days = 42). So they're proven egg-layers, but what does the lady need with 42 of them when she already has way too many partridges, doves, hens, and blackbirds? Unless the true love has given her the goose that lays golden eggs, her goose will be cooked trying to feed all these big honking birds and then clean up after them (which is the real meaning of "loose as a goose").
Seven swans-a-swimming (7 x 6 days = 42). So an equal number of two equally large bird species. I sure hope the poor lady has a large lake on her property. Just imagine the noise, and the mess, and the feed bill. Is the true love trying to drive her insane???
Eight maids-a-milking (8 x 5 days = 40). Here's the rub: our heroine must already have milk cows, or she wouldn't need milkmaids. But even if she has a very large herd, there won't be enough work for 40 milkmaids, so they'll start a union and fight over who gets first milking rights and the poor cows will explode or dry up waiting for disputes to be settled. This true love has poor business skills.
Nine ladies dancing (9 x 4 days = 36). This sounds much nicer, doesn't it? Live entertainment, maybe performances of The Nutcracker and Swan Lake? Have you ever coordinated a group of 3 or 4 performers, much less 36 of them? That's a huge job in terms of choreography, costumes, music, etc. Plus even dancers like to eat now and then. Start scrambling those eggs!
Ten lords a-leaping (10 x 3 days = 30). What kinds of lords? The British Parliament's House of Lords currently has 763 members, but how many of them can leap? WHY are they leaping? Can you picture thirty Lords of Parliament playing leapfrog, or far worse, leaping about in ballet tights? Maybe they want to join the dancing ladies, but I'm sure they also like to eat. More eggs, please!
Eleven pipers piping (11 x 2 days = 22). I play piccolo. Even though it's a small instrument, it must be played carefully because its high notes can pierce through the entire orchestra. Twenty-two playing at one time is just . . .ridiculous. And what if the true love means bagpipes? Twenty-two bagpipes??? Well, I guess they'd drown out the birds.
Twelve drummers drumming (12 x 1 day = 12). A good drumline is fun to watch and listen to, as long as they're OUTSIDE.
Hmm, maybe if lover boy is just clueless and not secretly trying to drive the lady insane with the birds and the labor disputes and the noise, he's a Scot, and he's just encouraging her to support his pipe and drum corps. That could also explain the dancing ladies and leaping lords—they're Scottish dancers who canna keep their feet still when they hear the merry sounds of pipe and drum.
Air do slàinte! ("To your very good health!") And Merry Christmas!