A Lullaby

This poem first appears in print in the 1864 collection The Collier Lad, and was subsequently included in all the other collections except that of 1878. In the published volumes of his work, Skipsey subtitles this poem: "suggested by an old verse". The verse in question, usually referred to as "Golden Slumbers" was written by the Elizabethan dramatist and pamphleteer Thomas Dekker (c1572 - 1632) and is included in his play Patient Grissel (1599), a variant of the medieval tale of Patient Griselda, which is also one of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. We do not know exactly how Skipsey came across the poem, but he was certainly interested in the writing of the Shakespearean and Elizabethan period.

Through the dark and dreary night

Golden slumbers kiss thine eyes

Sleep, and in the early light

With a golden smile arise!

Sleep, my baby, do not cry

Lulla, lulla, lullaby.

The round red moon is sinking low

They say tonight there’ll be a storm

Well, the moon may sink and the wind may blow

But I’ll protect you from all harm.

Sleep, my baby, do not cry

Lulla, lulla, lullaby.

Trouble art thou? Baby, nay

You’re the brightest star in all my sky

You have turned my night to day

You’re my dear jewel, don’t you cry.

Sleep, my baby, do not cry

Lulla, lulla, lullaby.

This was another poem that called out to be set to music, especially in the light of the original Dekker poem having at least two well-known musical versions. I have made a few alterations to the words, changing the order of the verses, taking out the reference to "tempest-proof" which I didn't think worked when sung, and slightly revising what has now become the final verse.

Golden Slumbers has been associated with a traditional tune known as May Fair. However, whereas the tune itself dates back at least to the early eighteenth century, it appears to have been William Chappell, the Victorian musicologist, who adapted the Golden Slumbers verses to fit the tune. In his Popular Music of Olden Time (1859) the May Fair tune appears with the words of Golden Slumbers and the comment: 'The words that were written to [the tune] for ballad-operas possess but little interest apart from the dramas. I have therefore adapted an old lullaby'. It was this version that Paul McCartney saw on a family piano and, unable to read the music, decided to write his own tune to it.

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