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Sleep Well

·687 words·4 mins·
Poem-Swap 2022
Jerry S
Jerry S
Table of Contents


I cannot claim to have discovered this poem in an overlooked shelf at a bookstore or library, but in this post you can hear me recite it aloud. I first heard an abridged version spoken aloud for the while watching an episode of “Once Upon a Time”. On the show Mr. Gold sent a cassette tape recording to his newborn son which he could not see; it was regrettable but understandable.

Below is a recording I made of myself reciting “Sleep Well” based on how I heard it on the show and on a YouTube video I found.

You can follow along with the verses that I’ve included further down.

It’d be wonderful to have real occasion to read this as a sleep time lullaby to a child or to anyone else.

Listen to me

Sleep Well

  1. Once Upon A Time rendition with Mr. Gold
  2. Jaime Law’s rendition on YouTube

Sleep Well by Murdoch Maclean

A howlet

Sleep weel, my bairnie, sleep.
The lang, lang shadows creep,
The fairies play on the munelicht brae
An’ the stars are on the deep.

The auld wife sits her lane
Ayont the cauld hearth-stane,
An’ the win’ comes doon wi’ an eerie croon
To hush my bonny wean.

The bogie man’s awa’,
The dancers rise an fa’
An’ the howlet’s cry frae the bour-tree high
Comes through the mossy shaw.

Sleep weel, my bairnie, sleep.
The lang, lang shadows creep,
The fairies play on the munelicht brae
An’ the stars are on the deep.


Meaning of unusual words:

bairnie = child
munelicht brae = moonlit hillside
her lane = alone
Ayont = beyond
croon = wailing song
bogie man = ghost
howlet = owl
bour-tree = elder tree
shaw = flat ground at the foot of a hill


The impact of the poem from the show was apparent because I had to look it up immediately. What astonished me the most was the imagery it created for me.

I immediately imagined myself in a cabin on the edge of a forest that neighbors a land of rolling hills. The shadows grow longer with the setting of the sun and the landscape begins to take on an ethereal glow of blue. The growing twilight invites the fairies to come out and play in the faint moonlight that begins to wash over the landscape. They come out because on nights like this they can witness the stars becoming visible overhead on the deep night canvas of the sky.

But I’m human, so I’m in the cabin, and not out there with the playing fairies. I sit in the cabin not too far from a hearth stone (kitchen) that has cooled from the day’s activities. A cool pleasing breeze rolls through, the kind you can feel gently caressing the walls of a building, even though you’re inside. A window might even be open so I can feel the gentle coolness roil around my cheeks, cooling them and my entire body.

Off in some undetermined distance I see dancers circled around a fire having a fête of food, drink, and movement. They are happy of course, because the bogie man won’t bother them on this night, he has gone from this place. The howlet announces with its hoot that the night is in full swing and has officially blanketed the realm. Wherever the dancers are, the hoot of the owl can be heard even from the cabin.

Maybe I’ve dreamt up the dancers because I’ve already fallen asleep. I’ll join them then, in my dreams, as long as the stars paint the darkness with twinkle and the fairies play and dance in the moonlight glow.

Who wouldn’t want to go to sleep with dancing fairies and the smooth soothing hoot of an owl that calls us to the peaceful realm of dreams?


The full version of Sleep Well is one verse longer than what was recited on Once Upon a Time. I checked the full text for it on a few sites. If you find anything that needs correcting, let me know.