A Child's Garden of Verses (1885)
Robert Louis Stevenson
The Land of Nod
- From breakfast on through all the day
- At home among my friends I stay,
- But every night I go abroad
- Afar into the land of Nod.
- All by myself I have to go,
- With none to tell me what to do--
- All alone beside the streams
- And up the mountain-sides of dreams.
- The strangest things are these for me,
- Both things to eat and things to see,
- And many frightening sights abroad
- Till morning in the land of Nod.
- Try as I like to find the way,
- I never can get back by day,
- Nor can remember plain and clear
- The curious music that I hear.
This delightful little poem by Robert Louis Stevenson
plays upon the an expression that is still in common use today. "The land of nod" is frequently used to poke fun at those who appear to be lacking the appropriate level of attention. To Stevenson "The land of nod" was a frightening and lonesome journey that all must be cast into, like Cain, to wander through during restless nights of sleep. He observes that in the morning after a nightmare that like some "curious music" one can rarely recall the chilling events that causes apprehension on waking.
The Land of Nod is the imaginary realm to which sleepers go. The first recorded use of the phrase to mean, "sleep" comes from Jonathan Swift in his Complete Collection of Polite and Ingenious Conversation (1737). It’s derived from the Biblical story of Cain. Nod was the place he went after he was marked by God,for murdering his brother Abel. 1 During the 1800’s Eugene Field personified the word through his children's verse, [Wynken, Blynken, and Nod" and Herman Melville in Moby Dick also refers to the land of nod to describe Ismael going to sleep. The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable written in 1898 says that :
To go to the land of Nod is to go to bed. There are many similar puns, and more in French than in English. Of course, the reference is to Gen. iv. 16, “Cain went … and dwelt in the land of Nod;” but where the land of Nod is or was nobody knows. In fact, “Nod” means a vagrant or vagabond, and when Cain was driven out he lived “a vagrant life,” with no fixed abode, till he built his “city.”
Some Biblical scholars say that the traditional refuge of Cain may be somewhere east of Eden
where met his wife
. Which of course is a movie aptly starring James Dean who plays the role of a moody and rebellious son.
As a verb nod means to "to quickly bow the head" and has been established as being a part of everyday language around 1386. The origin is unknown origin but probably an Old English word, perhaps related to the Old High German word hnoton meaning "to shake," which was derived from the Proto-Germanic khnudojanan.
Around the middle of the 18th century people began to capitalize Nod and use as a noun for a bit of wit for the place we go when we "sleep" because of the noticeable comparison between nodding and falling asleep. Once the land of nod became a cliché for "sleep", people dropped it as a Biblical reference and started to refer the Biblical Nod as 'the place to which Cain was exiled' or 'the land God gave to Cain.'
We were fast going off to the land of Nod, when - bang, bang, bang - on the scuttle, and "All hands, reef topsails, ahoy!" started us out of our berths.
--Richard Henry Dana, Jr., Two Years Before The Mast
Languages are ripe with the bedtime puns meaning the same thing: “ I am off to Bedfordshire" and “the marrowbone stage.” One might be “A Dunse
scholar,” “Knight of the beer-barrel,” “Admiral of the blue,” “Master of the Mint” or “Master of the Rolls.” More modern versions would include, catching some shuteye, hitting the hay and sleeping like a log or a rock.
Another version of the” land of Nod" is interpreted as "land of 'Wandering'" by the American Bible Society's "Today's English Version" of the Bible. They verify the phrase with a biblical commentary that "Nod", acknowledged by the Middle High German notten
meaning "move about" means wander
derived from the original Hebrew word. This may have created the appealing association between "wander" with "sleep." Whatever Swift or Melville may have implied by way of pun or otherwise, the association with Cain and his enforced condition leads many to wonder just what his condition was following the murder of his brother.
Dictionary.com/Word of the Day: land of Nod:
E. Cobham Brewer 1810–1897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.
Public domain text taken from The Poets’ Corner:
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