Wee Willie Winkie

1841 poem and nursery rhyme

"Wee Willie Winkie" is a Scottish nursery rhyme. The main character in the rhyme is well-known as a personification of sleep. The poem was written by William Miller and titled "Willie Winkie", first published in Whistle-binkie: Stories for the Fireside in 1841.[1][2][3] It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 13711.

"Wee Willie Winkie"
1940 American WPA poster using Wee Willie Winkie to promote children's libraries
Nursery rhyme
Lyricist(s)William Miller


The memorial to the author, William Miller, in Glasgow

The original text of 1841 in Scots, and a paraphrased version for English-language readers (from 1844) are below:

Wee Willie Winkie rins through the toon,
Up stairs an' doon stairs in his nicht-gown,
Tirlin' at the window, crying at the lock,
"Are the weans in their bed, for it's now ten o'clock?"

"Hey, Willie Winkie, are ye comin' ben?
The cat's singin grey thrums to the sleepin hen,
The dog's speldert on the floor and disna gie a cheep,
But here's a waukrife laddie, that wunna fa' asleep."

Onything but sleep, you rogue, glow'ring like the moon,
Rattlin' in an airn jug wi' an airn spoon,
Rumblin', tumblin' roon about, crawin' like a cock,
Skirlin like a kenna-what, waukenin' sleepin' fock.

"Hey Willie Winkie, the wean's in a creel,
Wamblin' aff a bodie's knee like a verra eel,
Ruggin' at the cat's lug and raveling a' her thrums-
Hey Willie Winkie – see there he comes."

Wearit is the mither that has a stoorie wean,
A wee, stumpie, stousie, that canna rin his lane,
That has a battle aye wi' sleep afore he'll close an e'e-
But a kiss frae aff his rosy lips gies strength anew to me.[4]

Wee Willie Winkie runs through the town,
Up stairs and down stairs in his night-gown,
Tapping at the window, crying at the lock,
Are the children in their bed, for it's past ten o'clock?

Hey, Willie Winkie, are you coming in?
The cat is singing purring sounds to the sleeping hen,
The dog's spread out on the floor, and doesn't give a cheep,
But here's a wakeful little boy who will not fall asleep!

Anything but sleep, you rogue! glowering like the moon,'
Rattling in an iron jug with an iron spoon,
Rumbling, tumbling round about, crowing like a cock,
Shrieking like I don't know what, waking sleeping folk.

Hey, Willie Winkie – the child's in a creel!
Wriggling from everyone's knee like an eel,
Tugging at the cat's ear, and confusing all her thrums
Hey, Willie Winkie – see, there he comes!"

Weary is the mother who has a dusty child,
A small short sturdy child, who can't run on his own,
Who always has a battle with sleep before he'll close an eye
But a kiss from his rosy lips gives strength anew to me.[5]

Origins and meaning


The poem was written by William Miller (1810–1872), first printed in Whistle-binkie: Stories for the Fireside in 1841 and re-printed in Whistle-Binkie; a Collection of Songs for the Social Circle published in 1873.[1][2][3][5] In Jacobite songs Willie Winkie referred to King William III of England, one example being "The Last Will and Testament of Willie winkie"[6] but it seems likely that Miller was simply using the name rather than writing a Jacobite satire.[5]

Such was the popularity of Wee Willie Winkie that the character has become one of several bedtime entities such as the Sandman, Ole Lukøje of Scandinavia, Klaas Vaak of the Netherlands, Dormette of France[7] and Billy Winker in Lancashire.[8]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Cunningham, Valentine (14 April 2000). The Victorians. ISBN 9780631199168. Retrieved 3 May 2013 – via Google Books.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "William Miller". Scottish-places.info. Retrieved 3 May 2013.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Dennistoun online". Dennistoun.co.uk. Archived from the original on 26 May 2011. Retrieved 3 May 2013.
  4. Carrick, John Donald; Rodger, Alexander (1842). "Willie Winkie". Whistle-binkie; a collection of songs for the social circle. Retrieved 1 June 2010.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), pp. 424–5.
  6. "Full text of "A Dictionary of Lowland Scotch, with an introductory chapter on the poetry, humor, and literary history of the Scottish language and an appendix of Scottish proverbs"". Retrieved 3 May 2013.
  7. C. Rose, Spirits, Fairies, Gnomes, and Goblins: an Encyclopedia of the Little People (ABC-CLIO, 1996), p. 231.
  8. Briggs, Katharine (1976). An Encyclopedia of Fairies. Pantheon Books. pp. 24, 429. ISBN 0394409183.

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