Published on Academy of American Poets (

Rock Me to Sleep

Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight,
Make me a child again just for tonight!
Mother, come back from the echoless shore,
Take me again to your heart as of yore;
Kiss from my forehead the furrows of care,
Smooth the few silver threads out of my hair;
Over my slumbers your loving watch keep;—      
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

Backward, flow backward, O tide of the years!
I am so weary of toil and of tears,—      
Toil without recompense, tears all in vain,—   
Take them, and give me my childhood again!
I have grown weary of dust and decay,—   
Weary of flinging my soul-wealth away;
Weary of sowing for others to reap;—   
Rock me to sleep, mother — rock me to sleep!

Tired of the hollow, the base, the untrue,
Mother, O mother, my heart calls for you!
Many a summer the grass has grown green,
Blossomed and faded, our faces between:
Yet, with strong yearning and passionate pain,
Long I tonight for your presence again.
Come from the silence so long and so deep;—   
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

Over my heart, in the days that are flown,
No love like mother-love ever has shone;
No other worship abides and endures,—      
Faithful, unselfish, and patient like yours:
None like a mother can charm away pain
From the sick soul and the world-weary brain.
Slumber’s soft calms o’er my heavy lids creep;—      
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

Come, let your brown hair, just lighted with gold,
Fall on your shoulders again as of old;
Let it drop over my forehead tonight,
Shading my faint eyes away from the light;
For with its sunny-edged shadows once more
Haply will throng the sweet visions of yore;
Lovingly, softly, its bright billows sweep;—   
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

Mother, dear mother, the years have been long
Since I last listened your lullaby song:
Sing, then, and unto my soul it shall seem
Womanhood’s years have been only a dream.
Clasped to your heart in a loving embrace,
With your light lashes just sweeping my face,
Never hereafter to wake or to weep;—      
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep! 


This poem is in the public domain.


Elizabeth Akers Allen

Elizabeth Anne Chase Akers Allen, née Elizabeth Anne Chase, was born on October 9, 1832, in Strong, Maine. She grew up in Farmington, Maine, where she attended Farmington Academy.

In 1851 Allen married Marshall Taylor, though the marriage soon ended in divorce. In 1855 she got a job as writer and associate editor for the Portland Transcript, and the following year she published her first poetry collection, Forest Buds From the Woods of Maine, under the pseudonym Florence Percy. The collection was a financial success. With the earnings from her book, Allen traveled in Europe from 1859 to 1860, serving as a correspondent for the Portland Transcript and Boston Evening Gazette. While in Rome, she dispatched the poem “Rock Me to Sleep, Mother” to the Saturday Evening Post in Pennsylvania. The poem—with its famous opening lines “Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight, / And make me a child again, just for to-night!”—would become her most well-known work. It was eventually set to music and became a popular Civil War song.

In 1860, Allen married Maine sculptor Benjamin Paul Akers, whom she met overseas. Their marriage, however, was also short-lived, as he died from tuberculosis the following year. Allen moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked as a government clerk from 1863 to 1865. She married Elijah M. Allen in 1865.

In 1866, Allen faced legal controversy over the publication of her new poetry collection, Poems (Ticknor & Fields), which she published under the name Elizabeth Akers. Poems included Allen’s “Rock Me to Sleep,” to which a man named Alexander M. W. Ball claimed authorship. Allen underwent legal proceedings to reclaim the copyright to her work.

After living in Richmond, Virginia, for several years, Allen returned to Portland in 1874, where she served as literary editor for the Daily Advertiser for seven years. In 1881 she moved to Tuckahoe, New York, and in the subsequent years published several more collections of poetry, including The Sunset Song and Other Verses (Norwood Press, 1902), The High-Top Sweeting and Other Poems (C. Scribner’s Sons, 1891), and The Silver Bridge and Other Poems (Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1886). She also published the novel The Triangular Society: Leaves from the Life of a Portland Family (Portland, Hoyt, Fogg & Dunham, 1886).

Allen died in Tuckahoe on August 7, 1911.

Date Published: 1859-01-01

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