From Lullabies to Ballads: How Eugene Field Revolutionized Children’s Literature

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod (1902) | Maxfield Parrish

Born on this day September 2, 1850, Eugene Field, an acclaimed writer and poet, brought a transformative approach to children’s literature with his unique blend of lullabies, ballads, and poetry. Often referred to as the “poet of childhood”, Field’s work marked a significant shift in the way children’s literature was perceived and created. His innovative style and thematic content set a new standard, positioning children’s poetry as a serious literary genre.

Prior to Field’s influence, children’s literature was largely didactic and moralistic. It was not seen as a genre that could engage with complex emotions or explore imaginative realms. However, Field changed this perception with his lyrical poems and ballads that seamlessly blended fantasy, humor, and sentimentality. His writings not only entertained young readers but also invoked a sense of wonder and curiosity about the world around them.

Field’s lullabies and ballads were not just simple nursery rhymes; they were sophisticated pieces of literature with rich narratives and vivid characters. His ability to capture the innocence, joy, and wonder of childhood in his writings propelled him to fame. His works like “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod” and “The Sugar-Plum Tree” are testament to his poetic genius.

Moreover, Field was a prolific essayist. His essays offered insightful commentary on various subjects ranging from politics to literature. In fact, his essays often served as a platform for him to express his views on children’s literature and its importance.

Eugene Field revolutionized children’s literature by demonstrating that it could be both entertaining and educational. He pushed the boundaries of the genre, proving that children’s poetry can be as complex and meaningful as adult literature. By doing so, he forever changed the landscape of children’s literature and solidified his place as one of the most influential figures in the field. Through his enduring works, Field continues to inspire generations of writers and readers alike.

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod

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 of 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,
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 afeard are we!”
So cried the stars to the fishermen three:
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;
‘T was all so pretty a sail it seemed
As if it could not be,
And some folks thought ‘t was a dream they ‘d dreamed
Of sailing that beautiful sea—
But I shall name you the fishermen three:
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:
And Nod.

-Eugene Field

Curated by Jennifer

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