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Together: 'Lullaby'

'Lullaby' by Edwin Morgan

The poet says...

"Before I had any contact with the Hungarians at all, I discovered Attila József in Italian translation, and made my own translations from that, out of sheer excitement and delight at coming across a poetry of such deep urban pathos and concern – it was almost like finding a kind of poetry I had been half-searching for … but never truly experienced till then. Budapest and Glasgow!"

Nothing Not Giving Messages (1990)



Attila József was born in 1905 a poor area of Budapest, the youngest of three children. His father soon deserted the family, and Attila and his two sisters were briefly fostered in the countryside, in such poor conditions they returned to their mother. She died in 1919. Three years later, and still at school, József published his first book of poems. Rejected by the University of Szeged because of a provocative poem he had written, he furthered his education in Vienna and Paris from 1925 to 1927. Returning to Hungary he briefly joined the Communist Party, and scraped a living from his writing, publishing seven volumes of poetry in his short life. He died aged 32, killed by a train.


Teaching ideas


'Lullaby' is a translation of the poem 'Altató' written by the Hungarian poet Attila József in 1935. It was published in Attila Jószef: Sixty Poems (2001).

Pronouncing 'Balázs':

a is like o in hot
à is like a in father
zs is like s in pleasure

  • What is inside the child's house?
  • What is outside his house?
  • What kind of place – city, town, village, countryside – do you think he lives in?
  • What is 'the far-off' he'll reach in verse 6?
  • What might he dream about?
  • Who do you think is speaking the poem?
  • Which rhymes can you find in the poem?
  • Which lines in each verse rhyme?
  • Which words rhyme with 'Balázs'? (And which words almost rhyme with 'Balázs'?)



Find other translations of József's 'Lullaby'.

  • Which version sounds most like a lullaby?
  • Do any of the translations miss out something that is in the Edwin Morgan translation?
  • Do any of the translations add something that is not in the Edwin Morgan translation?



Write a lullaby for a baby or a young child.

  • Like this one, end each verse with the same line, including the name of a child.
    • To begin, make a list of some things inside your house.
    • Then make a list of things outside your house, perhaps that you can see from your window.
    • Imagine some things that a baby or young child might dream about – perhaps things it would like to do, but isn't normally able, or allowed, to do.
  • Choose the name of a child to use in your lullaby.
    • Or you could use a more general, like 'baby' or 'sweetheart'.
  • Make up a line – a refrain – to end each verse with, which includes the name of the child.

Write a lullaby of three verses.

  • In the first verse, imagine some of the things inside the house falling asleep.
  • In the second verse, imagine some of the things outside the house falling asleep.
  • In the third verse, imagine what the baby or young child might dream about.
    • Remember to end each verse with your refrain.
  • Add some rhymes to your lullaby.
  • Make the words at the end of the first and third lines rhyme.
  • Make the word at the end of the second rhyme (or nearly rhyme) with the name at the end of the fourth line.
  • But don't let the rhymes get in the way of what you mean.

Read the poem aloud. Does it sound gentle enough for a lullaby?

  • If it doesn't, think about which words you could change.
  • Even if you have words that mean the right thing, if they don't sound right as well, they won't work as a lullaby!

Health and wellbeing

'Lullaby' touches on themes of parenting and caring for young children; the child's relationship to its immediate environment, both inside and outwith the home; and the importance of rest and sleep.

Within the Curriculum for Excellence, the suggested activities can help pupils:

  • to develop an understanding of the physical, social and emotional factors that influence their health and wellbeing
  • to make informed choices and live a healthy, fulfilled life
  • to develop an understanding of how their actions and decisions are affected by and affect others
  • to help younger children
  • to take responsibility for their own health and fitness


Useful questions from Building the Curriculum 1: Health & Wellbeing.

  • Do you like going to sleep at night?
  • Do you like getting up in the morning?
  • Why do we need to sleep?
  • How long to we need to sleep for?
  • What happens to our brains when we sleep?
  • What happens if we don't get enough sleep?
  • What happens if we sleep too much?

Discuss with pupils how long people of different ages need to sleep for – for example, babies, children at nursery school, teenagers, parents, grandparents.

  • They might be able to use as examples younger or older siblings, or other family members.

Make a list of words for sleep – doze, nap, snooze, and so on.

  • Make a list of related words – dream, snore, pyjamas, and so on.

A place to sleep

  • Design a bedroom.
  • Think about what makes a room good to sleep in.
  • Consider colours, furniture, lights, windows, fabrics, and so on.
  • Think about things not to have in a bedroom.


  • Why do lullabies help young children go to sleep?
  • Do the pupils know any lullabies?
    • These could be in English, or another language spoken in the home.
    • Ask the pupils to write down the lullabies they know.
    • Pupils could illustrate their own, or another pupil's, lullaby.
  • Make a class display of the pupils' lullabies.
    • Learn some of the lullabies as a whole class.
    • Sing these at a school assembly.
  • Make sound recordings of pupils singing or speaking the lullabies, individually or as a group.
  • Make a class CD of lullabies.
    • Ask pupils to design a cover for the CD, and to write notes about the lullabies – who brought them to the class, where they come from, if they are in another language a brief description of what they are about.
    • Offer copies for sale at a parents' evening, or school fair, or similar event.

Further reading

Morgan began making translations of Attila József in the 1950s, and published some in the 1960s in magazines in Scotland, New York and Budapest, though none appeared in his first collection of translations Rites of Passage (1976). Further translations appeared in magazines between 1985 and 1997, with more appearing in 2001 in The Dark Horse – a magazine edited by Gerry Cambridge, who also typeset Morgan's Attila Jószef: Sixty Poems (2001) for Mariscat Press. This book was favourably reviewed in The Scotsman and The Hungarian Quarterly.

Jozsef, Attila. Fragments. Trans. Edwin Morgan.
Morning Star Publications, 1992.

Jozsef, Attila. Sixty Poems. Trans. Edwin Morgan.
Glasgow: Mariscat Press, 2001.

Attila József's work has been widely translated into English. As well as Edwin Morgan's book, there are also

  • Winter Night: Selected Poems of Attila József, translated by John Batki (1997)
  • Perched on Nothing's Branch, translated by Peter Hargitai (1999)
  • The Iron-Blue Vault: Selected Poems, translated by Zsuzsanna Ozsvath and Frederick Turner (2000) (does not include 'Lullaby')
  • Attila József: Poems and Fragments, edited by Thomas Kadebo (c.2000).

Related links


Resource written by Ken Cockburn, April 2009




Languages (English), Health and wellbeing, Expressive arts (Music).


2000s, parenting, caring, togetherness, sleep, Attila József, Hungarian, translation, 1930s