What's with these a-verbs?

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Dec 15, 2012 03:52
I'm reading lyrics for "The Twelve Days of Christmas" and there are these a-verbs: a-laying, a-swimming, a-milking. What are these "a"s for? Are they only for keeping the right rhythm? What if I used them in a real conversation? Do they sound old, weird or what? I'm asking you here because I don't know how to ask Google about it... :)