Elizabeth Akers Allen

Rock Me to Sleep by Elizabeth Akers Allen

‘Rock Me to Sleep’ is a sentimental poem written by the American poet Elizabeth Akers Allen. This poem centers on a depressed speaker who is missing her mother badly.

Elizabeth Akers Allen, the poet to ‘Rock Me to Sleep’, upholds the importance of her mother in her life. The poems about mother or those which reflect a speaker’s emotional recapitulation of the days past, cajoled in her mother’s embalming care, reminds the importance of that particular lady in one’s life. Her touches have some unique qualities that only her soul’s part can feel. None can share this sensation with someone else. Everybody has their glorifying image of the mother in the heart. And here, Allen presents this image to readers.



‘Rock Me to Sleep’ by Elizabeth Akers Allen describes the role of the poet’s mother and how the poet misses her in the days of dire need.

This poem begins with a speaker’s heartfelt longing for the days when she was close to her mother. To be specific, she misses her days of infancy when her mother used to make her sleep, rocking her cradle, shading her from all the evil forces, comforting every need of hers. Now, when she is in grave emotional tension, the image of her mother reminds her what she needs the most. Therefore the poet says, “None like a mother can charm away pain.” All she wants if her mother were there, she would comfort her in the way she did. Therefore, at the end of each stanza, she urges, “Rock me to sleep, mother, – rock me to sleep!”



This poem consists of six eight-line stanzas. Each stanza of the poem contains a regular rhyme scheme and it is AABBCCDD. The poet maintains this scheme throughout the text. So each stanza has four rhyming couplet or two-line units. Moreover, the metrical scheme of this work is also conventional. Each line contains ten syllables. After grouping the syllables in five units, one has to give stress to the second syllable on each foot. In this way, one can find that the overall poem is composed in iambic pentameter. However, there are no metrical variations in this poem, giving it a lullaby-like scheme.


Literary Devices

This poem, ‘Rock Me to Sleep’ begins with a personification. Here, the poet, Allens personifies “Time” and asks it to take her backward. Moreover, the first line also contains an apostrophe. Thereafter, one can find a metaphor in the “furrows of care.” Along with that, the last line of each stanza, “Rock me to sleep, mother, – rock me to sleep!” is a refrain. In the second stanza, readers can find zeugma in the line “I am so weary of toil and tears.” There is also a use of anaphora in this stanza. Thereafter, in the third stanza, the poet uses asyndeton in the first line. There is an oxymoron in the phrase, “passionate pain.” Apart from that, the poet uses several repetitions, such as alliterations and consonances in this poem.


Analysis, Stanza by Stanza

Stanza One

Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight,

Make me a child again just for tonight!

Mother, come back from the echoless shore,

Take me again to your heart as of yore;

Kiss from my forehead the furrows of care,

Smooth the few silver threads out of my hair;

Over my slumbers your loving watch keep;—      

Rock me to sleep, mother, – rock me to sleep!

The poem, ‘Rock Me to Sleep’ begins with the speaker’s request to time. Here, she wants to move backward in time and be a child again just for a night. From her tone, it is clear that she is depressed and in grave mental pain. However, in this stanza, she requests her mother to come back from the “echoless shore,” a metaphorical reference to death. She will be relieved if her mother takes her close to heart like she did when the speaker was a child.

Moreover, her mother can only help her in such a condition. Her kiss can relieve her from her tensions. Therefore, she requests her mother to smooth her hair and keep a watch over her slumbers. Here, the poet uses a metonymy in the “silver threads.” From this phrase, it becomes clear that the speaker is old. Lastly, she urges her mother to rock her to sleep. In this way, the poet wants to be an infant and relive those days.


Stanza Two

Backward, flow backward, O tide of the years!

I am so weary of toil and of tears,—      

Toil without recompense, tears all in vain,—   

Take them, and give me my childhood again!

I have grown weary of dust and decay,—   

Weary of flinging my soul-wealth away;

Weary of sowing for others to reap;—   

Rock me to sleep, mother – rock me to sleep!

The second stanza begins with the same phrase, “Backward, flow backward,” but here the request is to the “tide of the years.” It’s a metaphor for time too. However, in this stanza, the speaker expresses her tiredness and mental agony. She wants to be free from the weariness of those long years, struggling in both the emotional and spiritual level. So, she wants this cycle with the assistance of her mother. Moreover, she says that she has sown only for others, not thinking much about herself. So, in the end, she requests her absent mother to come back and make her sleep.


Stanza Three

Tired of the hollow, the base, the untrue,

Mother, O mother, my heart calls for you!

Many a summer the grass has grown green,

Blossomed and faded, our faces between:

Yet, with strong yearning and passionate pain,

Long I tonight for your presence again.

Come from the silence so long and so deep;—   

Rock me to sleep, mother, – rock me to sleep!

In the third stanza of the poem, the speaker compares her life’s events with “the hollow, the base, the untrue.” For her, the only truth is that she loves her mother and her mother adores her. Thereafter, the poet uses the theme of transience of life by using the metaphor of grasses grown during summer and withered thereafter. However, her “strong yearning” and “passionate pain” is only for her mother. Therefore, she urges her mother to return from death’s “silence, so long and so deep,” and make her spirit sleep.


Stanza Four

Over my heart, in the days that are flown,

No love like mother-love ever has shone;

No other worship abides and endures,—      

Faithful, unselfish, and patient like yours:

None like a mother can charm away pain

From the sick soul and the world-weary brain.

Slumber’s soft calms o’er my heavy lids creep;—      

Rock me to sleep, mother, – rock me to sleep!

In this section of ‘Rock Me to Sleep’, the speaker glorifies her mother’s love. All she got throughout her life is base. The most important thing in her life is her mother’s love. A mother’s “Faithful, unselfish, and patient” love for her child is incomparable with any worldly pleasures. Therefore, the speaker remarks, “None like a mother can charm away pain/ From the sick soul and the world-weary brain.” Lastly, she expresses she requires sound sleep for many days. It’s not possible without her mother’s cajoling presence.


Stanza Five

Come, let your brown hair, just lighted with gold,

Fall on your shoulders again as of old;

Let it drop over my forehead tonight,

Shading my faint eyes away from the light;

For with its sunny-edged shadows once more

Haply will throng the sweet visions of yore;

Lovingly, softly, its bright billows sweep;—   

Rock me to sleep, mother, – rock me to sleep!

Thereafter, the poet makes use of imagery for presenting a motherly image in front of readers. Here, the speaker tells her mother to let her brown hair lighted with “gold” fall on her shoulders again. Like the old days, she would drop her hair over the speaker’s forehead and shade her “faint eyes” away from the light. Thus she can sleep as if she is an infant. Moreover, she says with the shadows of her hair, she can relive those days. The “sweet visions of yore” will soothe her heartache. Along with that, her mother’s bright presence will sweep away her pain and help her to have a sound sleep.


Stanza Six

Mother, dear mother, the years have been long

Since I last listened your lullaby song:

Sing, then, and unto my soul it shall seem

Womanhood’s years have been only a dream.

Clasped to your heart in a loving embrace,

With your light lashes just sweeping my face,

Never hereafter to wake or to weep;—      

Rock me to sleep, mother, – rock me to sleep!

In the last stanza of the poem, the speaker uses a palilogy in the first line to emphasize her longing for her mother. Here, she wants to hear the lullabies her mother used to sing her to sleep. Those lullabies will make her realize that all the “Womanhood’s years” are nothing but a dream. Thereafter, the speaker wants to clasp her mother in a “loving embrace.” With her enlightening presence, her mind will be clear of every doubt and pain. Therefore she won’t need to wake up or weep again. It seems here the poet wishes for the external sleep. However, the last stanza ends similarly to the previous stanzas. This line contains a rhetorical exclamation, expressing the poet’s heartfelt request to her absent mother.


Historical Context

‘Rock Me to Sleep’ was written during the poet’s European sojourn. The poem was first published in the Saturday Evening Post of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1859. The poem became very popular during the American Civil War. Moreover, this poem is mostly famous for the first couplet, “Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight,/ Make me a child again just for tonight!” However, in 1857, her husband S. M. Taylor abandoned her and left her with their infant daughter. So, in that phrase, she was suffering from immense mental and spiritual pain. Moreover, her marriage only lasted for 6 years, it was not an easy thing to digest. In such a mental state, paralyzed by excruciating pain, she wrote the verses of ‘Rock Me to Sleep’.


Similar Poetry

Like Elizabeth Akers Allen’s lyric, ‘Rock Me to Sleep’, the following poems present similar themes and mostly a speaker’s longing for his or her mother.

You can also refer to these motherhood poems and poems about Mother’s day as well.

Discover the Essential Secrets

of Poetry

Sign up to unveil the best kept secrets in poetry,

brought to you by the experts

Sudip Das Gupta Poetry Expert
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

The Best-Kept Secrets of Poetry

Discover and learn about the greatest poetry ever straight to your inbox

Discover and learn about the greatest poetry, straight to your inbox

Start Your Perfect Poetry Journey

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap