Lullabies from Literature: Classic Children’s Poems About Sleep

A list of lullabies and children's poems about sleep written by notable children's authors.

Artwork by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite

Famous Children’s Poems About Sleep from Literature

1. Wynken, Blynken, and Nod by Eugene Field

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night
Sailed off in a wooden shoe —
Sailed on a river of crystal light,
Into a sea of dew.
“Where are you going, and what do you wish?”
The old moon asked the three.
“We have come to fish for the herring fish
That live in this beautiful sea;
Nets of silver and gold have we!”
Said Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.

The old moon laughed and sang a song,
As they rocked in the wooden shoe,
And the wind that sped them all night long
Ruffled the waves of dew.
The little stars were the herring fish
That lived in that beautiful sea —
“Now cast your nets wherever you wish —
Never afraid are we”;
So cried the stars to the fishermen three:
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.

All night long their nets they threw
To the stars in the twinkling foam —
Then down from the skies came the wooden shoe,
Bringing the fishermen home;
‘Twas all so pretty a sail
 it seemed
As if it could not be,
And some folks thought ’twas a dream they’d dreamed
Of sailing that beautiful sea —
But I shall name you the fishermen three:
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.

Wynken and Blynken are two little eyes,
And Nod is a little head,
And the wooden shoe that sailed the skies
Is a wee one’s trundle-bed.
So shut your eyes while mother sings
Of wonderful sights that be,
And you shall see the beautiful things
As you rock in the misty sea,
Where the old shoe rocked the fishermen three:
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.

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About Wynken Blynken and Nod

Often misspelled as Winken, Blinken, and Nod, this poem for children was written by American poet Eugene Field in 1889. The poem was originally titled Dutch Lullaby, and many do not realize it is actually an American fantasy bedtime story, as homage to the Dutch.

The poem tells of three children who sail upon a wooden shoe among the stars. A sleepy child’s nodding head and blinking eyes are symbolized by little fishermen.

2. The Land of Nod by Robert Louis Stevenson

Artwork by Margaret Evans Price

From breakfast on through all the day
At home among my friends I stay,
But every night I go abroad
Afar into the land of Nod.

All by myself I have to go,
With none to tell me what to do —
All alone beside the streams
And up the mountain-sides of dreams.

The strangest things are there for me,
Both things to eat and things to see,
And many frightening sights abroad
Till morning in the land of Nod.

Try as I like to find the way,
I never can get back by day,
Nor can remember plain and clear
The curious music that I hear.

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About The Land of Nod

Written in 1916 by famed Scottish author and poet, Robert Louis Stevenson, known for such classics as Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, his children’s poem The Land of Nod portrays the wonder of dreaming.

The poem tells of how real a dream can feel like an escape from reality, and how we long to remember a dream outside of sleep.

3. My Bed is a Boat by Robert Louis Stevenson

My bed is like a little boat;
Nurse helps me in when I embark;
She girds me in my sailor’s coat
And starts me in the dark.

At night I go on board and say
Good-night to all my friends on shore;
I shut my eyes and sail away
And see and hear no more.

And sometimes things to bed I take,
As prudent sailors have to do;
Perhaps a slice of wedding-cake,
Perhaps a toy or two.

All night across the dark we steer;
But when the day returns at last,
Safe in my room beside the pier,
I find my vessel fast.

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About My Bed is a Boat

Another children’s poem about sleep by Robert Louis Stevenson, My Bed is a Boat, was also published in his 1916 book, A Child’s Garden of Verses: Selected Poems.

Of particular delight, is Stevenson’s illusion to how “prudent sailors” long for home by taking “a slice of wedding-cake” along for the voyage.  The juxtaposition with “a toy or two” symbolizes a boy’s dream for both youth and life of adventure.

4. The White Seal’s Lullaby by Rudyard Kipling

Oh! hush thee, my baby, the night is behind us,
And black are the waters that sparkled so green.
The moon, o’er the combers, looks downward to find us
At rest in the hollows that rustle between.

Where billow meets billow, there soft be thy pillow;
Ah, weary wee flipperling, curl at thy ease!
The storm shall not wake thee, nor shark overtake thee,
Asleep in the arms of the slow-swinging seas.

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About The White Seal’s Lullaby

From Rudyard Kipling’s famous 1894 book The Jungle Book, this poem depicts a mother seal singing her baby seal to sleep.

Like all mothers, the seal is protecting her child, while lulling her little one to sleep within the swaying green seas at night.  The endearing description of a baby seal as a “weary wee flipperling” is magical.

5. Lullaby of an Infant Chief by Sir Walter Scott

O, hush thee, my babie, thy sire was a knight,
Thy mother a lady, both lovely and bright;
The woods and the glens, from the towers which we see,
They are all belonging, dear babie, to thee.
O ho ro, i ri ri, cadul gu lo.

O, fear not the bugle, though loudly it blows,
It calls but the warders that guard thy repose;
Their bows would be bended, their blades would be red,
Ere the step of a foeman draws near to thy bed.
O ho ro, i ri ri, cadul gu lo.

O, hush thee, my babie, the time soon will come,
When thy sleep shall be broken by trumpet and drum;
Then hush thee, my darling, take rest while you may,
For strife comes with manhood, and waking with day.
O ho ro, i ri ri, cadul gu lo.

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About Lullaby of an Infant Chief

From the author of the Scottish masterpiece Ivanhoe, this daring poem depicts the plight of protecting a chief’s child during the medieval times of the Scottish clan wars.

Clan chiefs often lived in castles, and were guarded by knights.  This little baby is destined to grow-up into war, and his protector sings that ‘strife comes with manhood’, so the baby should sleep now.

6. Lullaby (For a Black Mother) by Langston Hughes

My little dark baby,
My little earth-thing,
My little love-one,
What shall I sing
For your lullaby?

A necklace of stars
Winding the night.

My little black baby,
My dark body’s baby,
What shall I sing
For your lullaby?

Great diamond moon,
Kissing the night.

Oh, little dark baby,
Night black baby,

Stars, stars,
Night stars,
For your sleep-song lullaby.

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About Lullaby (For a Black Mother)

Famed African-American poet Langston Hughes, was one of the forerunners of jazz poetry. His poem Lullaby (For a Black Mother) is from his 1932 book The Dream Keeper and Other Poems.

The poem evokes the rhythm of song with simple repetition and dreamlike imagery, like “a necklace of stars.”  Another delightful poem from this same collection is his poem The Dream Keeper which tells of protecting dreams from the harsh realities of the world.

The Dream Keeper by Langston Hughes

Bring me all of your dreams,
You dreamer,
Bring me all your
Heart melodies
That I may wrap them
In a blue cloud-cloth
Away from the too-rough fingers
Of the world.

7. The Sugar-Plum Tree by Eugene Field

Have you ever heard of the Sugar-Plum Tree?
‘Tis a marvel of great renown!
It blooms on the shore of the Lollypop sea
In the garden of Shut-Eye Town;
The fruit that it bears is so wondrously sweet
(As those who have tasted it say)
That good little children have only to eat
Of that fruit to be happy next day.

When you’ve got to the tree, you would have a hard time
To capture the fruit which I sing;
The tree is so tall that no person could climb
To the boughs where the sugar-plums swing!
But up in that tree sits a chocolate cat,
And a gingerbread dog prowls below –
And this is the way you contrive to get at
Those sugar-plums tempting you so:

You say but the word to that gingerbread dog
And he barks with such terrible zest
That the chocolate cat is at once all agog,
As her swelling proportions attest.
And the chocolate cat goes cavorting around
From this leafy limb unto that,
And the sugar-plums tumble, of course, to the ground –
Hurrah for that chocolate cat!

There are marshmallows, gumdrops, and peppermint canes,
With stripings of scarlet or gold,
And you carry away of the treasure that rains,
As much as your apron can hold!
So come, little child, cuddle closer to me
In your dainty white nightcap and gown,
And I’ll rock you away to that Sugar-Plum Tree
In the garden of Shut-Eye Town.

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About The Sugar-Plum Tree

Eugene Field’s poem The Sugar-Plum Tree is one of the most beloved children’s poems about sleep.

Field’s sugar-coated imagery of a ‘chocolate cat’ and ‘gingerbread dog’, coupled with a treasure of collecting as much candy as you can carry, make every child want to visit ‘Shut-Eye Town’ in dream.

8. Sweet and Low by Lord Alfred Tennyson

Artwork by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite

Sweet and low, sweet and low,
Wind of the western sea,
Low, low, breathe and blow,
Wind of the western sea!
Over the rolling waters go,
Come from the dying moon, and blow,
Blow him again to me;
While my little one, while my pretty one, sleeps.

Sleep and rest, sleep and rest,
Father will come to thee soon;
Rest, rest, on mother’s breast,
Father will come to thee soon;
Father will come to his babe in the best,
Silver sails all out of the west,
Under the silver moon:
Sleep, my little one, sleep, my pretty one, sleep.

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About Sweet and Low

Written in 1849 by Queen Victoria’s Poet Laureate, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Sweet and Low tells of the winds bringing a baby’s father home across the sea and home to his mother, ‘blow him again to me.’

You may recognize Lord Tennyson’s work from his most memorable quote: Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.

The poem title is also thought to be the inspiration for the artificial sweetener, Sweet’n Low, introduced in 1957.

9. On the Road to Slumberland by Mary Dow Brine

Artwork by Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1881

Which is the road to Slumberland,
And when does the baby go?
The road lies straight through mother’s arms,
When the sun is sinking low;
She goes by the drowsy “Land of Nod,”
To the music of “Lullaby,”
When all wee lambs are safe in the fold,
Under the evening sky.

Two little tired satiny feet
From the shoe and the stocking free,
Two little palms together pressed
At the patient mother’s knee,
Some baby words that are drowsily lisped
In the tender Shepherd’s ear,
And a kiss that only a mother can place
On the brow of her baby dear.

And close and closer the heavy lids
Are hiding the baby eyes,
As over the road to Slumberland
The dear little trav’ler hies;
And this is the way, through mother’s arms,
The precious darlings go
To the beautiful city of Slumberland
When the sun is sinking low.

About The Road to Slumberland

Originally part of a longer work, My Boy and I or On the Road to Slumberland, this poem by American poet Mary Brine, describes that how the road to sleep is safely within a mother’s arms.

The lullaby was written for one of the very few books published by Louis Comfort Tiffany in 1881 — and yes, of that Tiffany family!

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About this List of Classical Children’s Poems and Lullabies

Tired of baby songs?  This list of classic children’s poems about sleep will stimulate the mind of even the most-educated parent.

From Rudyard Kipling to Langston Hughes, this lullaby list includes famous poets and children’ authors who have written about sleep and dream. Share these classics with your children to stimulate their little brains too!

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