Saturday, June 28, 2014

Today's poem by Ruth Hulburt Hamilton

I found this article here, and all the words in my post come from there. I've known the poem a long time, and I love it. 

Song for a Fifth Child was only one part of the life journey of Ruth Hulburt Hamilton.

Ruth was the mother of four children aged 11,9,7 and 5 when her fifth child, Jane, was born. “The children were all older when Jane was born and they would rush home to see her and hold her. Since there were five years between my next youngest and Jane, I had a bit more quiet time with her.” Ruth recalls.

Ruth’s daughter, Jeremy, remembers well how her mother rocked her and sang with them as children. Some of their favorite songs were “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” and “Dark Brown is the River.”

Ruth was born in Kirksville, Missouri in 1921 and she lived most of her life in Oak Park, Illinois. She married when she was 23 and became a mother for the first time at 25. Her poem, Song for a Fifth Child, was published in Ladies Home Journal in 1958 and has found a treasured place in the hearts of mothers for generations.

It honors the everyday efforts of motherhood. It honors the sacred in the mundane and the tensions that pull at us all as mothers. Bills, errands and housework will always be there and yet we must rock while we can.

Ruth’s poem has often been misquoted. It is published here in its entirety with permission from the author. Enjoy.

Song for a Fifth Child by Ruth Hulburt Hamilton (1921- )

Mother, oh mother, come shake out your cloth!
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
Hang out the washing and butter the bread,
Sew on a button and make up a bed.
Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She's up in the nursery, blissfully rocking!

Oh, I've grown as shiftless as Little Boy Blue
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby, loo).
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due
(Pat-a-cake, darling, and peek, peekaboo).
The shopping's not done and there's nothing for stew
And out in the yard there's a hullabaloo
But I'm playing Kanga and this is my Roo.
Look! Aren't her eyes the most wonderful hue?
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo.)

Oh, cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
But children grow up, as I've learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust, go to sleep.
I'm rocking my baby. Babies don't keep.

Thank you Ruth Hulburt Hamilton for affirming our priorities as mothers and reminding all of us to put our babies first and let the rest go.


  1. I will try to find this poem and send it to my great niece that just had her fourth baby. She loves babies so. Sweet poem.

  2. Oh Nan I love this so so much! Brought tears (of joy) to my eyes. I loved playing with my babies and so did my daughter. And so does my granddaughter. That is the priority in life. The author expresses it so perfectly. . (The sentiment works for a mother of 4 -- me; of three -- my daughter; and two -- my granddaughter. And so it does for you and your daughter and d-i-l as well I am sure!!!)

    On another note: I am glad to see you post; realized when Penny posted the other day about Gladys Taber that I haven't seen you on my Feedly for a while.

    1. They are such wonderful words, aren't they! Thank you. I have a lot of blog posts floating around in my head (and in my drafts!) but just haven't had the time to sit down and write.

  3. and Grandbabies! Lovely poem and post, Nan!

  4. Lovely! And with a fifth child, especially sweet, because she knows how quickly babies turn into children who are more independent. I know with my second child, I was more aware of how quickly time passes.

    1. It really is such a wonderful poem. And with grandchildren one is even more aware of how quickly time goes by.

  5. A very touching poem - even to me, who never was (and never will be) a mother.
    I am a little puzzled at your mentioning of "Ruth's daughter, Jeremy". I always thought Jeremy was a male first name, based on the biblical Jeremiah who was a man.

    1. t wasn't me mentioning it. this whole post was from the page about the writer and her poem. And yes, I thought Jeremy was a boy's name, too.

  6. Hi Nan - I was drawn in by that header - what a gorgeous picture. Really a keeper. Then I read the poem. My two are both out of the house for two weeks (daughter with boyfriend's family in NJ and son at Y Camp). Empty nest preview. I don't care for it, not one bit. I read (and enjoyed) A Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling. I have lost most of the details of the story but a comment made by the narrator (or a character) about how parents are in a near constant state of bereavement for the little children they once has stuck with me.

  7. Oh, that is so lovely a poem and now I hope to find more Ruth Hulburt Hamilton.

  8. That was lovely - also the songs which I looked up on youtube. I have so many similar happy memories. So perfect to see them expressed in poetry. Thanks!

  9. Oh what a treasure! Something I wish I had read in my early years but I will bring this to mind when I visit my daughter....and her floors need sweeping and laundry needs folding and dishes are in the sink!

  10. Such an important message. I so wish some of the moms at my neighborhood park would put their phones away and pay attention to their littles. The time goes by far too quickly!

    Lovely header, my dear. Is that a tree or shrub??

  11. Love this <3 Will be sharing <3 As an Autism Mom we often forget that time is passing. We are so worried about getting by and just surviving the day that we forget that even our children will grow up!

    1. Thanks for coming by, and leaving a note. I shall come visit!

  12. My mom had the final stanza of this poem given to her as a needlework for one of her four children. My first is seven weeks old. I was talking to her on messenger the other day, and had told her that I managed to get the vacuuming done but didn't get a chance to mop because I was busy cuddling my little girl. She write back, "remember my needlework: cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow, for babies how up we've learned to our sorrow, so settle down cobwebs and dust go to sleep, I'm rocking my baby and babies don't keep", I can picture her needlework. I read it many times as a child, but it means so much more now that I am a mother. I looked up the rest of the poem and found myself here. I'm trying to memorize the rest of the poem so I can recite it to myself as I comfort my baby, the words help me keep everything in perspective and I cuddle my baby even more. Thanks Ruth!


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