Langston Hughes’ poem “Lullaby” is tender and ethereal. Hughes’ symbolic, repetitive language crafts an image of night swirling around a mother and baby, engulfing them in sparkling darkness. It feels as if the mother is hugging her baby with words, even as she searches for a way to convey the depth of her love. The mother settles on a senseless series of night words for her baby’s “sleep-song lullaby:”
In its irrationality, the string of words perfectly expresses the inexpressible, which mothers are universally known to feel for their children.
The sixth graders at Krste Petkov Misirkov studied “Lullaby” as part of November’s Dreams and Friendship topic, My Family. We focused our study on Hughes’ use of repetition and his word choice. We then extended our study to lullabies from Macedonia and America, tracking words and phrases we heard over and over. Here are the words and phrases we heard repeated across songs and cultures:
stars, moon, sun, night, day, sleep, tomorrow, today, yesterday, mommy, daddy, little baby, diamond, good night, sweet dreams, peace, world
Inspired by our list of words, we set out to write our own lullaby using our favorites.
First, we asked ourselves what questions we had for the stars, moon, sun, night, day, and earth. Then, each student placed a dot in a place of their choice on five lines, i.e., a music staff. Using our questions and “found” musical phrases pulled from the dots, the lullaby “Nani Nani” was born.
The term nani, which the students describe as a sweet word for sleep, is common in lullabies throughout the Balkans. It is a word mothers use as they wrap their babies in night and sweetly sing them sleep-song lullabies.
We present to you “Nani Nani”…
I said to the day / Nani nanay / Where will you sleep tonight? / The day said to me / Sweet as can be / Nani nani nani
I said to the sun / Nani nanun / When will you stop your shine? / The sun said to me / Sweet as can be / Nani nani nani
I said to the stars / Nani nana / Who shines for you at night? / The stars said to me / Sweet as can be / Nani nani nani
I said to the moon / Nani nanoo / How do you change your smile? / The moon said to me / Sweet as can be / Nani nani nani
I said to the night / Nani nanae / Will you be ‘til the end of time? / And night, she held me / Sweet as can be / Nani nani nani
To learn more about the Dreams and Friendship Exchange, please read our initial blog.
— Abigail Jones, 2014–2015 Fulbright English Teaching Assistant