Sleep well! Lullabies from Around the World

Hush now: Parents around the world are singing their children to sleep. Many lullabies are about coming to rest and being sheltered, or transport their listeners to other worlds. What do their songs tell us?

For as many adults know, no matter how beautiful, exciting or exhausting our day may have been, it’s often hard to let go of it all, come bedtime. Although the eyes of exhausted young parents might close easily, falling asleep is not always so simple for their babies. This is why they should not be left alone to master this time of often difficult transition – especially when a lullaby can work miracles. Bidding farewell to the day becomes much easier when a baby’s mother or father does not merely think or speak the words “sleep, my child, sleep”, but actually sings them. 

When evening falls and darkness sets in, when the world outside winds down, then it’s time to take leave of the day and draw the curtains, quietly: hush little baby, go to sleep. It’s something that is easier said than done. We have gathered a small collection of international lullabies to help soothe youngsters to sleep.

Confirmed by an American study singing lullabies helps to lower an infant’s breathing and heart rate. However, singing pop songs, or playing pre-recorded songs from CDs or other media formats were less effective. Indeed, it is the traditional lullabies that have the most soothing effect, with their slow tempo – namely slower than a baby’s own heart rate – and their simple, repetitive melodies and lyrics. This has been proven by parents who have sung their children to sleep throughout the ages and around the globe.

Bissam, bissam baad’ne
Rock-a-bye, Rock-a-bye, Little Child

Bissam, bissam baad’ne, 
gryta hængø i jod’ne, 
koka full tå rjumegraut 
åt dæ vesle baad’ne.
Far, han sittø og harpa kødn more, 
ho blæsø saa vakkert hødn, 
syste, ho sittø aa spinnø gull, 
bror, han gaar i skogen,
jaga allø villø dyr.

Rock-a-bye, rock-a-bye, little child, the pot is on the stove,
Sour cream porridge is cooking for the little one. 
Father is hulling the grains of wheat,
Mother is playing a beautiful tune on the horn,
Sister is sitting and spinning gold,
Brother is walking in the forest,
Hunting the wild animals.

This lullaby was first written down at the beginning of the 19th century, and includes terms that are no longer common in today’s Norwegian language. It is sung from the perspective of an observer who portrays the daily activities of a family living simply in the countryside. The father helps in the kitchen while the mother plays music. Does the lullaby describe the Norwegians’ progressive view of equality between mother and father?

Баюшки-баю, Bayushki-bayu
Sleep, My Child, Sleep

Спи, младенец мой прекрасный, Баюшки-баю.
Тихо смотрит месяц ясный В колыбель твою.
Стану сказывать я сказки, Песенку спою,
Ты ж дремли, закрывши глазки, Баюшки-баю.

Сам узнаешь, будет время, Бранное житье,
Смело вденешь ногу в стремя, И возьмешь ружье.
Я седельце боевое Шелком разошью, Спи, дитя мое родное, Баюшки-баю.

Sleep, my beautiful son, sleep my child (bayushki-bayu).
The moon looks down quietly into your cradle.
I’ll tell you fairy tales, sing you little songs,
But you must close your eyes and sleep, my child, sleep.

Someday, you must learn the soldier’s (Cossack’s) way of life,
You’ll take your rifle, and ride away from home.
I will sew you a fine saddle-cloth with colourful silk,
Sleep, my beloved, sleep, my child, sleep

Sofðu unga ástin mín - Sleep, My Little Darling

Sofðu unga ástin mín. Úti regnið grætur.
Mamma geymir gullin þín, gamla leggi og völuskrín.
Við skulum ekki vaka um dimmar nætur.
Það er margt sem myrkrið veit, minn er hugur þungur.
Oft ég svarta sandinn leit, svíða grænan engireit.
Í jöklinum hljóða dauðadjúpar sprungur.

Sleep, my little darling, outside the rain is falling.
Mother rocks your little cradle, it’s already as old as stone.
Dream through the night into the day.
Everywhere there is darkness, my thoughts are heavy.
Ancient black sands blanket our fears.
We see our limits in the deep glacier cracks.

In an Icelandic lullaby one might expect to hear of magical encounters with droll creatures. While those also exist, this song happens to be among the most popular lullabies in Iceland. What’s interesting is that it was written in the early 20th century by the dramatist Jóhann Sigurjónsson for his play “Berg-Eyvind and His Wife”. It is sung by the mother Halla – before she throws her child off a cliff into a waterfall, in an act of despair and desperation.

Lala Lala - Sleep, Sleep

Lala lala gole baghe beheshtam, Lala lala to budi sarneveshtam, Bekhab ei moonese rooh-o ravanam, Bekhab ei bolbole shirin sabanam.
Lala …
Bekhab ei djune shirin rahate del, Tsho bolbol naghmesan dar sahate del, Bekhab ei ghoncheie nashkofteie man,
Bekhab ei gohare nasofteie man.
Lala …

Sleep, you flower of my paradise garden, you are my destiny,
Sleep, you confidant of my soul, sleep, you beautiful singing nightingale.
Lala …
Sleep, you my sweet life,
Who serenades my soul like the nightingale, sleep, you my unopened bud, sleep, you uncut jewel.
Lala …

The ancient Persians are known for their embellished poetic language, and their lullabies are no exception. Since the Revolution of 1979, women in Iran have only been allowed to sing publically (for male audiences) as part of a chorus. Thus lullabies are the only official form of song that women are allowed to sing alone. They are based on ancient oral traditions that often reflect the ethnic diversity of Iran. “Lala Lala” is traditionally sung by a mother to her son.

Duérmete Mi Niño - Sleep, My Child

Duérmete mi niño, que tengo qué hacer,
lavar los pañales sentarme a coser.
Este niño quiere que lo duerma yo. Duermalo su madre que ella lo encargó.

Sleep, my child, I have much to do,
For I need to wash and sew the nappies.
This little child wants me to lull him to sleep. 
But his mother should do this, she who gave him birth.

In Latin America, there are lullabies that were not originally sung by the parents. They come from a time when people who worked on plantations placed their children in the care of a trusted person. In this lullaby from Venezuela, the caretaker makes the situation quite clear. It is sung to the melody of the Venezuelan national anthem. Variations of the song can be found in several Latin American countries.

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