ROCKABYE BABY DEBATE
By Julia Soto Lebentritt
Mention lullabies and somebody always asks about "Rockabye Baby." How could such a lullaby be used for centuries to put our children to sleep?
Embarrassed silence, a real HUSH follows. Everyone is reviewing the words, and afraid to speak: "baby in the treetop... bough breaks... cradle will fall... baby and all."
Are we inventing monstrous scenarios in our cradlesongs?
I ask the audience to re-examine the context of the lullaby ritual, reinforcing my special contribution to the definition of the genre of world lullabies.
In the early 1980's, when I was studying music therapy in New York City, I volunteered to research lullabies simply because the sound of the word attracted me.
Lu, lu -, la, la -, by, by -
Lullaby - the rhythmic sounds took me back to the rocking of a cradle, the humming voice of my mother and beyond.
As a poet, the elite audiences frustrated me. Even my own mother and father did not understand my interest in poetry.
I found out that poetry thrives in the nursery.
Lullabies are a child's first step in learning language and culture.
I found out mothers and fathers have curious and wise answers to my favorite interview question: "What is it about the lullaby that puts the child to sleep?"
"It's the mother's breasts and all that...." An Italian American grandmother told me.
"It's vibration!" chimed the jazz singer.
"Lullaby is like a beautiful lovely love sound, very peaceful, pure beauty, and very direct," a New York City Chinese American artist and poet told me adding that in order to collect real lullabies I would have to go into rural China.
Taken out of a context - a tree is a tree, wind is wind, cradles do rock, and falling is falling. But, put into the context of a mother at bedtime or the matter itself of relaxing and settling a child to sleep and dream, the by now cliché "when the bough breaks" could refer as well to when the powerful cradling arm of a mother lays down her muscle heavy infant who has fallen asleep. The parent herself yields her vigilance, nurturing, and teaching to peaceful rest after hard work.
Rockabye Baby, mothers the tree/Her arms holding baby like boughs full of leaves/She is the wind now singing of dreams/Together with baby falling asleep.
In THE GREAT MOTHER Erich Neumann describes: "...the motherhood of the tree consists not only in nourishing; it also comprises generation, and the tree goddess gives birth to the sun. ...The childbearing tree may be further differentiated into treetop and nest, crib and cradle. That is why the New Year's festival in Egypt is also called the 'day of the child in the nest' ."
"Rockabye Baby" is open to poetic analysis, and this process opens up several other questions regarding our suspicions about love, separation, sleeping, the unconscious, dying, death, rebirth and nature itself.