Behind the Meaning of the Traditional Children’s Song “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod”

A glass of warm milk. Getting tucked in by a loved one. A soothing song. Sometimes we need a little help getting to sleep.

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That’s why there are such tunes as “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod” to help. Here, we will dive into the history and the meaning of the traditional children’s song.

Origin Meaning

Written by American writer and poet Eugene Field, “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod” has become a popular poem and song for kids. It was published on March 9, 1889, and the original title was “Dutch Lullaby.”

The content of the work displays a fantastical journey about three children sailing in a boat and fishing among the clouds and stars, which is made from a wooden shoe. The name of the poem as it’s known now is a nod (get it) to a child’s blinking, sleepy eyes, and nodding head. And the spelling of the name (along with the wooden shoe reference) indicates a strong Dutch influence.

The Lyrics, in Full

Here are the lush lyrics for the poem below:

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.

Musical Version and Pop Culture

The poem was set to music in 1890 by American pianist and composer Ethelbert Woodbridge Nevin. It was recorded by Dan Hornsby for BlueBird Records and was released in the 1930s, nearly 100 years ago. David Gude performed the number on his 1961 album, New Folks.

Since then, the song has been played and recorded by a number of artists via a number of different styles, from The Doobie Brothers to The Big 3 to the Simon Sisters. Donovan wrote and sang a musical version on his children’s album, H.M.S. Donovan.

It was also featured on the popular ’90s television show, Barney & Friends. And Buffy Saint-Marie wrote and sang a version on Sesame Street in 1975, and on her 1976 album Sweet America. In 1938, Walt Disney Productions released an eight-minute cartoon that had the fisherman in the poem as three pajama-wearing children.

Later, Lou Reed references the trio in the song, “Satellite of Love,” by the Velvet Underground. And in the 1993 film, Dennis the Menace, Mrs. Wilson recites the poem to the devilish Dennis when she puts him to bed after babysitting him for the day.

Final Thoughts

The long, old, solemn song is the perfect balm for the brain that is having trouble hitting the hay. A tune about a trio floating in the clouds fishing—what could be more soothing?

There isn’t a lot to decipher about the song other than its deep purpose and knack for helping young people, yes, nod off. It takes a delicate touch to achieve such an accomplishment but poet Eugene Field did that with great aplomb.

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