Golden Slumbers

Golden Slumbers
 Overview

This is getting easier.

Believe it or not, this is a lullaby designed to send a little baby off to the land of nod. It is about one person (mother or father) dealing with all the worries of another so they can be truly relaxed and serene.

Golden slumbers kiss your eyes,
Smiles awake you when you rise.
Sleep, pretty wantons, do not cry,
And I will sing a lullaby:
Rock them, rock them, lullaby.

Care is heavy, therefore sleep you;
You are care, and care must keep you.
Sleep, pretty wantons, do not cry,
And I will sing a lullaby:
Rock them, rock them, lullaby.

Thomas Decker (1598-1632)

Click through the tabs below to explore my analysis of different aspects of the poem.


ContextThemesContentLanguage and techniquesStructureTone

Context

Unfortunately, no one really knows a great deal about Dekker other than that he was a fairly prolific playwright between 1598 and his death in 1632 and that, like any sort of interesting fellow, he struggled with debt throughout his life.

Problems with debt, and a stint in a debtors’ prison, could well be the key to understanding why he wrote this poem. If his own life was filled with stress then it stands to reason that he might want to protect his child from this stress.

Interesting, but ultimately pointless, fact – The Beatles were inspired to write the song ‘Golden Slumbers’ after reading this poem. I’m sure this will come up in a quiz at some point in your life, at which point you will look like a genius!

 

 Themes

This poem is a nice contrast with ‘I Grieve, and Dare Not Show my Discontent’. Elizabeth’s duties and the worries of the powerful are a stark contrast to the serenity and tranquillity of a baby’s existence. Parents carry all worries and the baby has no duty, but to sleep a blissful sleep.

 Content

This isn’t going to be long as you’ll notice there are only two lines and a chorus in each stanza.

The opening stanza gives us an image of a baby looking beautiful in its sleep (probably innocent, content, peaceful) and the certainty that the baby will awake to love and happiness as greeted by its parents’ smiles.

Next we have the express hope that worries and troubles will be kept away from this child. The wordplay in the second line suggests that the baby is someone else’s thing to care for and that therefore it should be unburdened as the parents do all the worrying for it.

The chorus is a way to sooth the child to sleep and as such is repetitive and uses soft vowel sounds.

 

 Language and techniques

Let’s start with the phrase ‘golden slumbers’. Gold should suggest richness that shows the value of being carefree and serene. The fact it ‘kiss[es]‘ the eyes shows that the baby looks beautiful while asleep, the contented slumber draining any sorrow away.

The phrase ‘smiles awake’, at the beginning of the second stanza, tell us that the baby is be watched carefully by loving parents. Once the slumber is over, this baby will be confronted by love and happiness rather than troubles and worries.

Dekker uses ‘care’ to mean several things. First, ‘care is heavy’ meaning that troubles and worries weigh us down and make life difficult. Then the baby is described as ‘care’ for someone else, as its parents have to watch over and worry about its health and happiness, so the baby is something for them to ‘care’ or worry about, but the baby itself is always kept free from worry.

The chorus. Notice the repetition of ‘lullaby’ and ‘rock them’ and the gentle rhyme at the end of each line. This is designed to be read softly and be soothing. It is describing the actions of the person singing it – ‘sing a lullaby’, while they ‘rock’ the baby to sleep.

The phrase ‘pretty wantons’ is a little oxymoronic as it implies some naughtiness, but really this lullaby is hyperbolic about the beauty and innocence of this child.

 

 Structure

I’ve already mentioned quite a bit.

The lullaby chorus is repetitive and uses gentle sounds like ‘lull’ as a way of creating a soothing tune that will help a baby fall asleep.

We have a rhyming couplet and then triplet for the chorus, which are all simply one syllable rhymes that reflect the necessary simplicity of a lullaby and are softly read.

 

 Tone

Contentment and love. You can almost imagine the proud and caring parental eyes gleaming down at the baby as its eyelids slid shut. Aww!

Author: Mr Sir

Although I've only been teaching Literature since 2011 and did my degree in History, I think that makes me better placed than many Lit teachers to provide notes that make sense and aren't garbled and wrapped up with inaccessible terminology and effluent nonsense. After adventures in Uganda and Uzbekistan, I am now settling down in the Netherlands. However, currently I am just about as unsettled as I have ever been, with a new job, a new baby, a new country and a hundred other things going on! Ask me a question, collaborate or abuse me.

4 thoughts on “Golden Slumbers”

  1. really appreciate this.thank you so much. Can you do Written the night before his execution and A farewell to the reader next please?

  2. thanks for the awesome analysis of the poems. Please can you do the analysis for The Author’s Epitaph next?

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