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Welcome, dear readers, as ever.

In our last, we began with a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson


from his 1885 collection, A Child’s Garden of Verses.


There’s another poem from that collection which has haunted us for years—here it is:


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-side 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.

As a poem for children, it seems to contain a certain amount of menace:  “All by myself I have to go”, “many frightening sights”.  At the same time, there is a certain fascination—after all, the speaker seems to want to return there.  In other words, it’s a weird, but somehow interesting place, which reminds us of Little Red Riding Hood’s song from Stephen Sondheim’s modern fairy tale musical, Into the Woods (1987), in which she describes her experience with the wolf:

Mother said,
“Straight ahead,
Not to delay
or be misled.”
I should have heeded
Her advice…
But he seemed so nice.
And he showed me things
Many beautiful things,
That I hadn’t thought to explore.
They were off my path,
So I never had dared.
I had been so careful,
I never had cared
And he made me feel excited-
Well, excited and scared.
When he said, “Come in!”
With that sickening grin,
How could I know what was in store?
Once his teeth were bared,
Though, I really got scared-
Well, excited and scared-
But he drew me close
And he swallowed me down,
Down a dark slimy path
Where lie secrets that I never want to know
And when everything familiar seems to disappear forever
At the end of the path was granny once again
So we lay in the dark till you came and set us free
And you brought us to the light
And we’re back at the start

And I know things now,
Many valuable things,
That I hadn’t known before:
Do not put your faith
In a cape and a hood,
They will not protect you
The way that they should.
And take extra care with strangers,
Even flowers have their dangers.
And though scary is exciting,
Nice is different than good.
Now I know:
Don’t be scared.
Granny is right,
Just be prepared.
Isn’t it nice to know a lot!
And a little bit…not.”


Perhaps it’s that “curious music that I hear” which lures the speaker back?  For us, we’re immediately reminded of the Otherworld music which calls mortals into Faerie in Celtic folk literature.  Here’s a well-known tune with a lyric in Irish and English, which is the lament of a mortal woman who has been pulled into that world against her will, entitled Port na bPucai, “Song of the Pooka” (a kind of Otherworld spirit who plays malevolent tricks on mortals), which can illustrate the kind of music humans believed the Otherworlders used:

Is bean ón slua sí mé, do tháinig thar toinn

I am a woman from the fairy host who traveled over the seas

Is do goideadh san oíche me tamall thar lear

I was stolen in the night and taken beyond the sea

Is go bhfuilim as ríocht seo fé gheas’ mná sídhe

And I am held hostage in the kingdom by the fairy women

Is ní bheidh ar an saol seo ach go nglaofaidh an coileach

And I can only be in this world until the moment the cock crows

Is caitheadsa féin tabhairt fá’n deis isteach

I know I have tasks to do here

Ni thaithneamh liom é ach caithfead tabhairt fé

Which I do not like but must comply with

Is caitheadsa féin tabhairt fén lios isteach

I must return to the fort and do not have anything to do

Is ná déinig aon ní leis an dream thíos sa leas

With this body of fairy people down in the fairy mound.


And here’s a LINK so that you can hear that music sung.

On one level, then, this Land of Nod is simply the land of dreams—and here that land is, disturbingly illustrated by Charles Robinson for an 1895 edition of A Child’s Garden of Verses.


And we see this again in another late-19th-century poem, by the American poet, Eugene Field (1850-1895), where Nod has become a character who, along with two boating friends (Wynken and Blynken), personifies a child going to sleep:

Dutch Lullabye

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.

For a 1904 edition of a selection of Field’s poems, Poems of Childhood, Maxfield Parrish provided the following illustration—


(A “trundle bed”, by the way, is a low bed built to slide out from under a taller one and commonly was used in the past to accommodate children.  Here’s an image of one.)



On another level, the reference to music might remind us of the Celtic Otherworld, to which unsuspecting humans are lured away.


This is an illustration of Child Ballad 39A, “Tam Lin”.  Tam (Tom) is a mortal who has been taken by the elves (another name here for fairies) and is eventually rescued by a mortal woman.  Here’s a LINK to more on the ballad.

We have one more possibility for the Land of Nod—perhaps that which inspired Stevenson initially.  “To nod off” is an expression meaning “to fall asleep”, as we see in a traditional Scots song, “We’re a’ nodding”.  Here’s the first verse and the chorus as edited by Robert Burns and published in Volume 6 of The Scots Musical Museum (1803):

Gudeen to you kimmer
And how do you do?
Hiccup, quo’ kimmer,
The better that I’m fou.

We’re a’ noddin, nid nid nodding,
We’re a’ nodding at our house at hame,
We’re a’ noddin, nid nid nodding,
We’re a’ nodding at our house at hame.


“Good evening to you, old gossip,

And how are you?

Hiccup! Said the old gossip,

Much better because I’m full. [a local usage, meaning “drunk”]


We’re all nodding, nid, nid, nodding,

We’re all nodding at our house at home.

We’re all nodding, nid, nid, nodding,

We’re all nodding at our house at home.”)

But, besides this meaning, there is also, from “Genesis” in the Hebrew Bible, the story of the twin sons of Adam and Eve, Cain and Able.  After Cain murders Able:

“And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.” (“Genesis”, Chapter 4, Verse 16)


A little research suggests that the name “Nod” comes from a Hebrew root for the verb “to wander”, so Cain, we may be being told, was a wanderer.  That brings us back to our original Stevenson poem, where the speaker tells us that

“…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-side of dreams.”


Pleasant—or pleasanter—dreams, dear readers, and







Our information on the Hebrew Land of Nod comes from this LINK.