“Wee Willie Winkie” is the best-known of the British sleep spirits, many of which were invented by the Glaswegian poet William Miller (1810–1872), “the Laureate of the Nursery”. The nursery rhyme was first published in Whistle-Binkie: a Collection of Songs for the Social Circle in 1841.
The rhyme consists of five verses, the first of which appears to be written in a different style to the rest, so it seems likely that Miller used a traditional verse as a starting point and added the others, as he often did.
Although there are no obvious Jacobite references in the nursery rhyme, “Willie Winkie” was a common nickname for King William III (1650–1702) in Jacobite songs.
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.
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.