Rock-a-bye Baby

Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetops,
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall,
And down will come baby, cradle and all.

rock-a-bye baby cradle

1765. version:
Hush-a-by baby
On the tree top,
When the wind blows
The cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks,
The cradle will fall,
And down will fall baby
Cradle and all

“The Real Mother Goose” version from 1916:
Rock-a-bye, baby, thy cradle is green;
Father’s a nobleman, mother’s a queen;
And Betty’s a lady, and wears a gold ring;
And Johnny’s a drummer, and drums for the king.


The First Poem

The most likely explanation of this nursery rhyme—likely the first poem written in America, dating back to the seventeenth century—is that it describes the way local Native American mothers rocked their babies. The babies were in birch-bark cradles attached to branches of a tree that allowed the wind to rock them to sleep. 

Luke and his Family

Another theory refers to Derbyshire, England, where according to local legend in the late eighteenth century there was a charcoal burner named Luke, who lived with his wife and eight children in a house inside a huge two-thousand-year-old yew tree. They hollowed out a bough of the tree and used it as a cradle. 

Heir to the Throne

One more theory refers to events prior to the Revolution of 1688 in England. The child is the son of King James II, and it was believed to be someone else’s child, secretly brought into the birthing chamber so that James could have a Catholic heir. The “wind” is Protestants coming from the Netherlands, bringing James’ nephew to the throne.