“Leave Your Sleep isn’t just about my putting poems to music. It’s about the poets themselves.” – Natalie Merchant
Although not marketed as a “children’s album,” Natalie’s Merchant’s 2010 album Leave Your Sleep was inspired by poetry written for children or by children. Merchant, who began the project as a way of documenting the “word-of-mouth tradition” she employed “to delight and teach” her young daughter, collected a diverse set of poems that span several centuries and cultures. Several works will be familiar to poetry buffs but, on the whole, the collection is an impressive roster of little known gems.
The original poems may have been written for children but this is an album for adults. Not because of the subject matter – though some material may prove too complex or frightening* for young children – but because of tone. As Peter Pan remains a child while Wendy continues to mature, the poems selected capture the ethereal nature of childhood, a country to which we can never return once we’ve left. Only grown-ups can empathize with Charles Causley’s (“Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience”) confusion at no longer seeing the world through a child’s eyes. It’s a jarring moment in any life, and though some, like the poets represented, are better at mimicking that perspective, it can never be regained once it’s lost. It isn’t a coincidence that “Nursery Rhyme” opens the album.
I don’t mean to imply that children can’t enjoy this album too. There are many fun tracks (“Janitor’s Boy,” “Adventures of Isabel,” “Bleezer’s Ice-Cream“) in which young children will delight. But I believe older elementary and high school students would best be able to enjoy the album in its entirety. Perhaps it’s best to say that this is an album that will grow with you.
The album consists of two compact discs (1 hour, 53 minutes) along with a companion hardcover book that provides the complete poems and brief author biographies. iTunes sells the digital edition with a PDF version of the book.
The EPK explains the project and Merchant’s inspirations in more detail.
Concert excerpt that features “Spring and Fall: To A Young Child”
Video of “The Man In The Wilderness”
Video of “Calico Pie”
Video of “Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience”
* “Spring and Fall: to a Young Child” explains death, “The Sleeping Giant” talks about little boys being eaten whole, and “Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience” concerns the inevitable loss of innocence as we age.