It is indeed a beautiful, and beautifully crafted, song (oh, to have such talent!), but I personally do not care for it because of its melancholic, almost unsettling nature.
Kathy, I think you have hit upon the essence of this song.
Its an eerie song based on a nursery rhyme which themselves can be thought of as having macabre origins, for example, in 1665, the bubonic plague struck London hard, killing 20 percent of the population within a year. "Ring o' Roses" is said to indicate a rosy rash that spread across the victims' bodies, while "a pocket full of posies" was used to ward off the smell of disease. Obviously, the "ashes, ashes" that come falling down are the remnants of cremated dead bodies.
Other versions replace "ashes, ashes" with sneezing ("A-tishoo! A-tishoo!), another symptom of the plague.As early as the nineteenth century, authors like Samuel Taylor and Sarah Trimmer tried to alter nursery rhymes to make them more suitable to young ears, worried the macabre nature of some songs might inspire sadistic tendencies and create a race of children akin to The Omen. But these authors didn't anticipate the internet, or public libraries for that matter.
I think John was playing on this, his song based on "Sing a Song of Sixpence" is sung in a creepy low volume, almost menacing timbre, its almost Alfred Hitchcockian
He could have used the horrible bit of the rhyme....
The maid was in the garden,
Hanging out the clothes;
When down came a blackbird
And pecked off her nose.
For once I think John could've done more in this song, I notice Ringo's drumming builds intensity towards the final verse, becoming almost military, I think John could've done something with the lyrics that evoked more terror and began to sing in a more forceful voice (as he did on Warm Gun & Im So Tired) building up intensity more than he did.
Upon saying this its possible Kathy (and many others) wouldve cared even less for it