Track of the Day: ‘Winkin’, Blinkin’ and Nod’ by the Simon Sisters

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Eva Finkemeier writes:

I love this song by the Simon Sisters, formed out of a famous poem. Carly Simon’s older sister, Lucy, had composed it. For a summer on the East Coast, dirt poor, they performed this in small clubs. The sisters caught on, and not too long after, Carly Simon went solo, finally daring to perform her solo songs.

I like the idea of the Simon Sisters launching a nascent career on the sails of a children’s lullaby. After all the lyrics, from Eugene Field’s poem “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod,” tell the story of a dream, about three fishermen who “sailed off in a wooden shoe” to fish among the stars. (“Now cast your nets wherever you wish— / Never afeard are we!” the stars tell them.) The poem promises “beautiful things” and “wonderful sights that be”; it’s no wonder the sisters’ audiences were charmed by the wistful tune. Likewise, when The Atlantic reviewed Field’s work in our August 1896 issue, the editors were especially enchanted by his poems for children:

Here the most guarded critic can forget his qualms, and yield himself whole-heartedly to a new and naïve fascination. … One has to go to Schumann’s Kinderscenen for a parallel rendering of the silver-gray phantasmagoria, half dream, half waking gleams and splinterings of fancy, that Field has given us in The Fly-Away Horse, and Wynken, Blynken, and Nod. …

Strangely enough, too, in the handling of these sympathetic subjects, many of the technical limitations of the poet’s gift  which we have noticed are refined quite away. Elsewhere his sense of style is dull or non-existent; here the diction springs new as a flower out of rich deposits of nursery tradition, and the tune, starting with the swing of a cradle or the to-and-fro of a grand dame’s rockerless chair, leaps and lingers and bickers and swirls like the spirit of water. …

It is no small thing to voice the joys and woes of one whole stage of the earthly journey, however short, especially when that stage is full of the most enormous little psychic adventures. This Field has done. He has written the Canterbury Pilgrimage of infancy.

And off the pilgrims sail.

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