Golden Slumbers – The Origin of a Beatles Song

Last night I was reading through The Oxford Book of Children’s Verse by Iona and Peter Opie, (yes, I am obsessed with my sites), when I came across the following…

Cradle Song
by Thomas Dekker (1572 – 1632)

Golden slumbers kiss your eyes,
Smiles awake you when you rise.
Sleep, pretty wantons, do not cry,
And I will sing a lullaby:
Rock them, rock them, lullaby.

Care is heavy, therefore sleep you,
You are care, and care must keep you;
Sleep, pretty wantons, do not cry,
And I will sing a lullaby,
Rock them, rock them, lullaby.

Of course, I immediately thought of the Beatles song, Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight, from their album Abbey Road. Although they changed it slightly, to:

Golden slumbers fill your eyes, smiles awake you when you rise,
Sleep pretty darling do not cry, and I will sing a lullaby.

So now, I’m wondering, was Golden Slumbers a popular poem in England, before Abbey Road came out in 1969. Or was it sung as a lullaby to young children? Or did the Beatles find an obscure poem and popularize it in their song?

I’d love to know, if anyone has any more information about this, please write me.

Meanwhile, the song Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight, will be ringing through my mind!


Monique wrote me,

Golden Slumbers… as far as I know, it’s a traditional English lullaby. I created the Midi for Golden Slumbers.

Here’s an address where you can find the sheet music – Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, 1870-1885

Thanks Monique!

This article was posted on Tuesday, October 4th, 2005 at 3:06 pm and is filed under British Children's Songs, British Lullabies, Children's Songs, English, Golden Slumbers, Golden Slumbers, Languages, Lullabies, Midis, Music, Poetry, Questions, Recordings of Songs, The Beatles, United Kingdom. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

25 Responses to “Golden Slumbers – The Origin of a Beatles Song”

  1. Kevin Says:

    Here is a website that says McCartney saw the poem by Dekker and wrote a song based on that. I know it’s not anything official, but it’s probably fairly accurate.

  2. Rich Says:

    I saw an interview with Paul MacCartney and he said that he got Golden Slumbers from the children’s poem he used to hear.


  3. Lisa Says:

    Richard wrote me …

    “So now, I’m wondering, was Golden Slumbers a popular poem in England, before Abbey Road came out in 1969. Or was it sung as a lullaby to young children? Or did the Beatles find an obscure poem and popularize it in their song?”


    – Richard

    That’s an interesting question. If anyone knows the answer, please comment!


  4. Taylor Says:

    My dad has been in bands all my life and is a VERY talented musician. He used to break out his Ovation gutiar (a gutiar that has a rounded back on it opposed to a flat one) and would sing me Golden Slumbers by The Beatles when I was little. But, I just figured I’d share that with everyone…I don’t know the answer to your question, sorry.

  5. Kath Says:

    I’m in England and I was born in 1970 and I remember this as a lullaby with the tune Monique gives above (don’t recall ever having heard the Beatles version before). The version I heard was darling, not wantons though.

  6. Kristin Lindh Says:

    I believe that the later McCartney version may have come from a copy of Peter Pan with a 1931 copywrite. The Illustrations are by Roy Best and there are a couple of other short songs that I can’t “translate” since I never learned to read music.

  7. Calliope Nicolandis Says:

    I have a copy of the “New Blue Book of Favorite Songs” copywrite 1941 with the score and lyrics to “I will sing a lullaby” and the music is very similar to the Beatles Song.

  8. Lisa Says:

    Keith wrote:

    My mother sang this lullaby to me when I was very young (early 1950’s). She said ‘darling’ instead of ‘wantons’, so it’s apparent that the Beatles cannot be credited with that change to the original words.


  9. Lisa Says:

    I received this note:

    “McCartney couldn’t read the music but liked the words so wrote his own melody around them.”

  10. Ross Says:

    My mother also used to sing this poem to me when I was young (1980’s), but with a different, more somber melody in common time. I’m going to ask her where she learned it from.

  11. Ann Phillips Says:

    I use to sing this in the 50s when young girl (age 8), and have just recorded it again for a CD for the childrens hospice in St Austell. I do the original words that I learnt originally. Didn’t know that the Beatles did this one too. Only found this as I checking copyright. An

  12. Lisa Says:

    Hi Ann – that’s nice! would you like to share your recording with us? -Mama Lisa

  13. Gary Says:

    Paul tells the story of this on the 5th DVD (Special Features) of the Beatles Anthology set. Yes, he got the idea for Golden Slumbers from the Dekker poem.

  14. Yousef Says:

    Salaam. The Cradle Song by Thomas Dekker was first published in 1603.

  15. Jenny Says:

    I was born in 1948 and my mother would sing it to me. She used the words sleep pretty darling.

  16. Jennifer Says:

    I was born in 1947 in the Manchester area and my mum used to sing it to me when I was little. I’m pretty sure Lennon & McCartney will have heard it when they were young. I can’t believe it’s that they found the cradle song poem.

  17. Lisa Says:

    You’re probably right Jennifer! I’m curious what tune your mum sang it to.

  18. Michelle Says:

    My mother-in-law says that her father used to sing this song to her when she was a child in the the mid-late 40s. It was to the same tune, recently recorded by the fabulous folk band, The Unthanks. You can listen on Spotify, but technology is failing me! I can only assume that the poem was put to music some time prior to the 1940s. I much prefer the original.

  19. Peter Says:

    More plagiarism by the Beatles then !

  20. john draye Says:

    Golden Slumbers Kiss Your Eyes by Thomas Dekker ~ (1572–1632) / / arranged to his music by Carl Strommen // the poem was set to music by Peter Warlock in 1918 as a lullaby. / / plagiarised by the beatles in 196?

    ~ this gave me a headache ~ so much nonsense on the net . . . . I believe this to be the correct history .

  21. Richard Says:

    This song was written in 1603 by Thomas Dekker. Paul McCartney says he saw the music sheet on his father’s piano and liked the words and decided to use some of them in his song Golden Slumbers. As he could not read music he made his own melody which is not dis-similar to the original. Original song became popular in the 1920’s and Paul’s father used to have his own jazz band, Jim Macs Jazz Band in which he played trumpet and piano.

  22. Wendy Says:

    I found an old copy of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens which had some sheet music in the text and so I handed it to my BF, a pianist, and he started playing Golden Slumbers the book was published in 1800s

  23. Bob Says:

    Both the lyrics, save for one word (“kiss” changed to “fill”) AND the melody are identical. McCartney did not write a new melody over the words. He only used a section of the original but he lifted it 99.9% of it. I am a American an I’ve never heard of this children’s song. That it was so commonplace in England makes the secret even more perplexing. I would have thought they would have mentioned it in the 50th Anniversary issue just released. Interesting…

  24. Leslie Katona Says:

    I have a feeling a lot of other songs besides Golden Slumbers were based on traditional English folk songs….. adapted to the style of rock, just like great classical composers like Liszt, Brahms, Bartok etc turned traditional Hungarian folk songs into great classical works. It worked well for the Beatles, however I do think they should acknowledge their sources more overtly. It wouldn’t detract from their fame since all great composers/musicians borrow to some extent.

  25. Tom Says:

    Paul McCartney saw the music on the piano at his relative’s home, but could not read the music, so he improvised a new song based only on the words. He did not copy the original melody – they are nothing like each other. Search YouTube for interviews with Paul McCartney and you’ll find this out.

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