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The Land Of Nod
by Robert Louis Stevenson
From Breakfast on through all the day
At home among my friends I stay,
But every night I go abroad
Afar into the land of Nod.
All by myself I have to go,
With none to tell me what to do–
All alone beside the streams
And up the mountain-sides of dreams.
The strangest things are there for me,
Both things to eat and things to see,
And many frightening sights abroad
Till morning in the land of Nod.
Try as I like to find the way,
I never can get back by day,
Nor can remember plain and clear
The curious music that I hear.
The Land of Nod is a short poem by Robert Louis Stevenson about the realm of sleep. It is something of a poetic standard bearer for those who have chronic bad dreams.
Who is Robert Louis Stevenson?
Robert Louis Stevenson (born Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson; 13 November 1850 – 3 December 1894) was a Scottish novelist, poet and travel writer, most noted for Treasure Island, Kidnapped, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and A Child’s Garden of Verses.
Born and educated in Edinburgh, Stevenson suffered from serious bronchial trouble for much of his life, but continued to write prolifically and travel widely in defiance of his poor health. As a young man, he mixed in London literary circles, receiving encouragement from Andrew Lang, Edmund Gosse, Leslie Stephen and W. E. Henley, the last of whom may have provided the model for Long John Silver in Treasure Island. In 1890, he settled in Samoa where, alarmed at European and American encroachment upon the South Sea islands, his writing turned from away from romance and adventure toward a darker realism. He died in his island home in 1894.
A celebrity in his lifetime, Stevenson’s critical reputation has fluctuated since his death, though today his works are held in general acclaim. In 2018 he was ranked, just behind Charles Dickens, as the 26th-most-translated author in the world.
The Land of Nod refers to the place to where Cain was exiled in the Book of Genesis after murdering his brother Abel in Genesis Chapter 4. Nod from the Bible is a bit mysterious inasmuch as nobody is quite certain where it was located. In the poem here, Nod represents the far away and mysterious realm of sleep and dreams. He creates the contrast for the descriptions of Nod, in the second and third stanzas, by giving us a description of home in the first. Historically, sleep became so associated with Cain’s Nod that we still use the idiom “to nod off” regularly as a description of falling asleep.
Like Cain, the Speaker in the poem goes alone, rules over his own actions, and sees new things. For the Speaker, the experiences are both positive and negative. Also like Cain, the Land of Nod is not his home. The intentional comparison to Cain’s Nod, a place of lonely exile, creates the impression that the journey of sleep is not a pleasant one for the Speaker.
However, as the poem concludes in the fourth stanza, we see that this exile is only for the night. The sometimes frightening details from the night’s journey are all but impossible to even remember in the morning.
Though this should be something of a relief, we know that the Speaker will return to the Land of Nod again the following night.