Monday, October 18, 2021

‘A Cradle Song’: Beautiful Sounds From the Eternal Poem by William Blake

I learned William Blake’s A Cradle Song through a music class I was taking my infant to and I still sing it to him as a lullaby at bedtime. It is incredible to think Blake never had children of his own when he can evoke such strong imagery and capture so well those feelings a mother has when singing her child to sleep.

William Blake wrote the poem A Cradle Song in 1789 as part of his book Songs of Innocence. Songs of Innocence is an exquisitely made book of collected poems on children and the battle between the corruption of the world and the innocence of youth. These days, the book is just published for the poems, but originally, they were made up of engraved, hand-printed color illustrations by Blake himself.

A Cradle Song the original poem as hand written and painted in gold red and green colors from William Blake
‘A Cradle Song’ in its original illustrated form by William Blake. (Image: Public Domain)
Mother sits over child in cradle in illustration and second part of the poem
‘A Cradle Song’ second page in its original form, this one with a mother and child illustration by William Blake. (Image: Public Domain)

In the poem, the mother sings to her child, asking the child to sleep through the night. The word “sweet” is used 10 times in the poem. She sees the divine in her infant’s face. The weeping aspect in the poem comes from the mother wishing to protect her child from all the corruption of the world.

Even though the mother is saddened she won’t be able to shield her little one forever, she has faith it will be okay. The song ends with her stating how harmonious heaven and earth feel when she sees her child smile. It is a very powerful image and a strong connection of the physical and spiritual worlds that Blake conjures. 

A Cradle Song: The poem

Sweet dreams form a shade, 
O’er my lovely infants head. 
Sweet dreams of pleasant streams, 
By happy silent moony beams 

Sweet sleep with soft down. 
Weave thy brows an infant crown. 
Sweet sleep Angel mild, 
Hover o’er my happy child. 
Sweet smiles in the night, 
Hover over my delight. 
Sweet smiles Mothers smiles, 
All the livelong night beguiles. 

Sweet moans, dovelike sighs, 
Chase not slumber from thy eyes, 
Sweet moans, sweeter smiles, 
All the dovelike moans beguiles. 
Sleep sleep happy child, 
All creation slept and smil’d. 
Sleep sleep, happy sleep. 
While o’er thee thy mother weep 

Sweet babe in thy face, 
Holy image I can trace. 
Sweet babe once like thee. 
Thy maker lay and wept for me 

Wept for me for thee for all, 
When he was an infant small. 
Thou his image ever see. 
Heavenly face that smiles on thee, 

Smiles on thee on me on all, 
Who became an infant small, 
Infant smiles are His own smiles, 
Heaven & earth to peace beguiles.

A Cradle Song: The music

So now that you’ve read the words, listen to a snippet of this beautiful melody with its meaningful lyrics.

Music Together is an organization that operates all over the world. They connect early childhood music development. In Melbourne, I attended a weekly class with my young one. In this class, we sang songs, danced, played instruments, and at the end, we lay down while the teacher sang a lullaby and played an instrument. We were given a songbook and CD or access to digital copies online each term with a focus on one instrument.

The quality of music and the stories behind each one are a learning experience not just for the child, but also for the mother, father, or carer who shares the experience with the little one. Also, many songs are in a different language, so the child is getting good exposure to other languages, hearing a wide range of sounds, classical poetry, cultures, and connecting with their loved ones through music.

Many lockdowns meant classes had been held online for a while with possibly a few online classes staying open to cater for those who live remotely, but wanted to join in still. So it is worth checking out if you don’t have a local one in your area — joining the online class. Every teacher we have come across so far has warmed my little one’s heart and sparked great joy for music in him.

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Jessica Kneipp
Jessica writes about films, and occasionally gets to direct them. Music, photography, art, poetry, reading and travel are pretty good too. She has a love of silent films, they are the closest she will ever get to "time travel."

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