“Lullabies for Maniacs”?

While browsing and poking around over at The Poetry Foundation website, I came across an older article (2010) about the singer/songwriter Natalie Merchant. She had just come out with a 2-cd set of children’s poems set to music. The title of the article (“Lullabies for Maniacs”) plays on the fact that Merchant once was lead singer for the band 10,000 Maniacs. But for the cd in question, titled Leave Your Sleep, the songwriter did a deep dive into 19th and 20th-century children’s ditties, nursery rhymes, lullabies, and nonsense poems that her own daughter responded to, picking out some verses written by well-known poets like Robert Graves and Robert Louis Stevenson, some by uncelebrated authors, and others by the ubiquitous (especially in rhymes for children) “Anonymous.”

Here’s one Merchant set to music:

‘maggy and milly and molly and may’

maggy and milly and molly and may 
went down to the beach(to play one day) 

and maggie discovered a shell that sang 
so sweetly she couldn't remember her troubles,and 

milly befriended a stranded star 
whose rays five languid fingers were; 

and molly was chased by a horrible thing 
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and 

may came home with a smooth round stone 
as small as a world and as large as alone. 

For whatever we lose(like a you or a me) 
its always ourselves we find in the sea 

E. E. Cummings

The 2-disc set is still available at Amazon. I’m not trying to hawk the cd here, so I’ll just copy and paste the list of tracks – and when you have time, you might want to use it as a list of poems you can look up for fun.  [Added note: Do not miss the video of the Ted Talk performance where Merchant sings many of these poem-songs, including “maggy and milly….” Click here for the link to it . ]

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience
  2. Equestrienne
  3. Calico Pie
  4. Bleezer’s Ice-Cream
  5. It Makes a Change
  6. The King of China’s Daughter
  7. The Dancing Bear
  8. The Man in the Wilderness
  9. maggie and milly and molly and may
  10. If No One Ever Marries Me
  11. The Sleepy Giant
  12. The Peppery Man
  13. The Blind Men and the Elephant

Disc: 2

  1. Adventures of Isabel
  2. The Walloping Window Blind
  3. Topsyturvey-World
  4. The Janitor’s Boy
  5. Griselda
  6. The Land of Nod
  7. Vain and Careless
  8. Crying, My Little One
  9. Sweet and a Lullaby
  10. I Saw a Ship A-Sailing
  11. Autumn Lullaby
  12. Spring and Fall: To a Young Child
  13. Indian Names
The Poetry Friday round-up is being hosted today by Karen Edmisten. Head over to her blog to see what other people have posted.

10 responses to ““Lullabies for Maniacs”?

  1. I remember when the CD set and book came out. Thanks for spotlighting it — they did a wonderful job with this project. Love Natalie Merchant. 🙂

    • I don’t remember ever hearing Natalie Merchant, Jama, but I’m definitely going to hunt for this CD at the library.

  2. I love Adventures of Isabel by Ogden Nash! My middle name is Isabel and growing up, this poem kept me remembering how strong girls like me can really be. I’m looking forward to listening to the CD and reading the book.

    • Yes, The Adventures of Isabel! which start out this way:

      Isabel met an enormous bear,
      Isabel, Isabel, didn’t care;
      The bear was hungry, the bear was ravenous,
      The bear’s big mouth was cruel and cavernous.
      The bear said, Isabel, glad to meet you,
      How do, Isabel, now I’ll eat you!
      Isabel, Isabel, didn’t worry.
      Isabel didn’t scream or scurry.
      She washed her hands and she straightened her hair up,
      Then Isabel quietly ate the bear up.

      (And on it goes with Isabel outwitting a witch, a giant, and a troublesome doctor….)

  3. i always thought it would be fun to illustrate maggy and milly et al — i can’t go to the beach wo reciting last last line. so i am excited to hear it sung. thanks for this recommendation.

  4. This sounds like a lovely collection. Love Maggy and Milly.

  5. What fun! This sounds like a fabulous collection.

  6. Be sure to watch the 1/2-hour Ted Talk video of Merchant performing several of these songs! Here’s the link: https://www.ted.com/talks/natalie_merchant_sings_old_poems_to_life?language=en

  7. Very entertaining… I will have to come back and think more about these songs and poems. Thanks for the link.

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