Eugene Field’s ‘Wynken, Blynken, and Nod’ is one of the favorites of readers. This poem in the form of a fantasy bedtime story presents three child characters mentioned in the title. The original title was “Dutch Lullaby”. The names used in the poem originated from the Dutch language. This song is rhythmic and the verse follows a set pattern. The sound scheme has a soothing effect that is one of the important features of the lullaby form. Through this poem, Field explores how children are rich in their imagination and they can explore the unknown regions in their dream.
This poem presents three little kids, Wynken, Blynken, and Nod. One night, they sailed off in a wooden boat for fishing in the night sky. The stars in the sky appeared to them as herring fish and they wanted to catch them with their golden and silver nets.
When they came closer to the old moon, it asked what they were doing there. They replied that they were sailing in the sky to catch the stars. Hearing that, the moon sang a song that ruffled the sky. It was hard for the children to catch the stars. At last, the little fishermen returned from their venture with what they had caught.
In the last stanza, Field makes it clear that it is a fantasy story. Wynken and Blynken are nothing other than the eyes of a little child. His head is “Nod.” So, it was a dream that the child was seeing in his dream. His little bed became the wooden shoe-boat in his imagination.
This simple children’s song talks about three kids who sailed to the sky to catch stars. The title of this piece contains the name of the characters. If readers closely look at the words used there, they can understand that Field uses three verbs as the children’s names. The first two words, “Wynken” and “Blynken” are nothing other than the verbs wink and blink. These activities are associated with the eyes.
Whereas nodding is done by the head. It is a reference to a child’s nodding when he is sleepy. From the title, it becomes clear that the poet uses the words to depict a child who is about to sleep. Along with that, this lullaby makes him sleep. In his sleep, he might have seen this dream that is described in the text.
‘Wynken, Blynken, and Nod’ consists of four stanzas. Each stanza contains twelve lines. The first nine lines rhyme alternatively. While the last three lines containing the names of the characters are used as a regarding in every stanza.
There is a set rhyme scheme. The first four lines form a rhyming quatrain and the rhyme scheme is ABAB. While the following lines constitute a quatrain but there is one extra line that rhymes with the previous line. So, the rhyme scheme of this part is CDCDD.
While metrically analyzing the text, it can be found that it is written in iambic tetrameter. There are some lines where the poet uses iambic trimeter as well. The last three lines do not follow the metrical pattern. It remains separate from the sound scheme and acts as a refrain.
In this poem, Field makes use of several literary devices. For example, readers can find enjambment in the first four lines. It is used throughout the poem for maintaining the flow in between the lines.
In the second and third lines, there is an anaphora as the lines begin with the same word, “Sailed”. Readers come across a metaphor in “a river of crystal light.” It contains an image of the starry sky. The following line also contains a similar metaphor.
Some lines of this poem differ from the convention grammatical order. It’s an example of inversion. For example, “Nets of silver and gold have we!” contains this device. The line also contains a rhetorical exclamation.
The poet uses personification and invests the moon with the ability to speak. Throughout this piece, he uses alliteration of sounds for creating a sing-song-like effect. Besides, in some instances, he uses repetition of words as well.
Readers come across a hyperbole in the lines, “‘T was all so pretty a sail it seemed/ As if it could not be.” In the last stanza, there is an epigram in, “And you shall see the beautiful things/ As you rock in the misty sea.” Besides, the “misty sea” is a metonym for sleep.
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,”
Eugene Field’s ‘Wynken, Blynken, and Nod’ is a popular lullaby. The speaker of this piece seems to be a mother who is singing this song to make her child sleep. Besides, the narrator can be some else too. Whatsoever, in the first stanza, readers can see the story in its development. After reading the first two lines, it becomes clear that this is going to be a fantasy bedtime tale.
There are three characters in the plot namely Wynken, Blynken, and Nod. They are sailing off in “a wooden shoe.” This is the first element that brings in the taste of fantasy. Embarking on this ship they sail on “a river of crystal light.” Readers can see how the poet adds one imaginary element after another to paint a dreamy picture. The river of crystal light is nothing but a circumlocution. It points to the starlit sky. Adding another metaphor, “a sea of dew” the speaker describes the quality of the stars. So, there is an implied comparison between dew and stars.
Then suddenly in the plot, a voice can be heard. Interestingly, it is the old moon that is asking the trio concerning their destination and intention of sailing. In reply, they make their point clear. With nets of silver and gold, they are about to catch herring fish. The fish lives in the beautiful sea, a metaphorical reference to the sky. The herring fish has silvery scales and the color resembles that of the stars. For this reason, Field makes this comparison.
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 the beautiful sea.
“Now cast your nets wherever you wish,—
Never afraid are we!”
So cried the stars to the fishermen three,
In this stanza, the response of the old moon presents two aspects. Firstly, it is realistic. At the same time, he is a part of the imaginary tale. Besides, what he does with the characters makes it seem like a villain. The moon laughs after hearing Wynken, Blynken, and Nod. It sings a song that causes a disturbance in the sea.
According to the speaker, when the moon sings, the wind starts to blow at an increased pace. The wind that helped them to sail to the sky is now stopping them from fulfilling their goal. It ruffles the waves of dew. What does it mean? Readers can understand that here the speaker is referring to the clouds that start to cover up the sky. It hides the stars.
From the description, it is also possible that the wind makes the fishes disturbed. Therefore it makes the process of fishing easy. They can cast their nets wherever they wish. The kids reply to the moon that they are not afraid of whatever he does. Seeing their confidence and courage the stars also become fearful and they cry out saying their names. So, they are yielding to the zeal of those little children.
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 folk thought ’twas a dream they’d dreamed
Of sailing that beautiful sea;
But I shall name you the fishermen three:
In the third stanza, Field describes how the kids accomplish their goal and return to their home safely. According to the speaker, they fished throughout the night. They threw their nets to the stars swimming in the “twinkling foam.” In the quoted phrase, Field interestingly fuses the sea with the sky. The sky is no longer an airy covering over the earth. It has become a beautiful sea to sail on, not for everyone but for those who can dream!
When they were done with their work, they descended like they sailed off, on the wooden shoe. The following lines exaggerate the venture for heightening the magical mood. According to the speaker, it was a sail that never happened before. It is true in one way or the other.
In the last few lines, Field starts to draw the curtain on the magical world and unveils the real world. His speaker remarks about the veracity of the event in a humorous tone. This line clarifies indirectly that the incident happened in a child’s dream. Whatsoever, the following stanza makes everything more clear than this one.
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:—
The fourth stanza reveals the truth behind the story. According to the speaker, Wynken and Blynken are nothing other than the names of a child’s eyes. His head is referred to as Nod. Besides, the words used as names are verbs. The first two verbs deal with the quick opening and closing of eyes. While the verb, “nod” points to a gesture.
When a child listens to a song, he nods his head. In this story, the child listening to this lullaby is nodding his head. The child is sleeping in a little trundle bed. In his dream, this bed becomes a wooden sea that the characters use while sailing.
His mother tells him to shut his eyes to visualize such a dream. If he sleeps, then he can unleash the power of this magical world. He can see the beautiful things mentioned in the story or something else.
The following lines make it clear that the movement of the wooden shoe is caused by the rocking of the child’s bed. When he sleeps, his mother does so. In his dream, he connects this motion with the rocking of the wooden sea. In this way, the poet establishes a connection between reality and fantasy. The former, in most cases, influence the latter.
The poem, ‘Wynken, Blynken, and Nod’ was first published on March 9, 1889, under the title “Dutch Lullaby”. A few of Eugene Field’s poems that are still popular include ‘The Duel,’ ‘Little Boy Blue,’ and ‘Christmas Treasures’. The poem on Wynken, Blynken, and Nod became extremely popular. Two statues in the United States feature those three characters. One adorns Washington Park and another is in the center of the town square in Wellsboro.
The poem has been set to music one year after its initial publication. American pianist and composer Ethelbert Woodbridge Nevin set it to music. To date, it has been featured in other artistic works. Several composers reworked Field’s poem too.
The following poems are similar to the form and themes present in Eugene Field’s lullaby, ‘Wynken, Blynken, and Nod’.
- O Sleep, My Babe by Sara Coleridge – This is a dark, image-filled poem in which the speaker addresses an infant and their future. Explore more poems of Sara Coleridge.
- Rock Me to Sleep by Elizabeth Akers Allen – This poem presents a sad speaker who misses her mother badly. Read more Elizabeth Akers Allen poems.
- A Cradle Song by William Blake – It’s one of William Blake’s best-known poems. This lullaby is about a song of a mother who enjoys her baby’s restful sounds and expressions. Explore more William Blake poetry.
- All the Pretty Little Horses – It’s one of the popular nursery rhymes that similarly features a mother who is lulling her child to sleep.