Dream Angus

I’m better.  Pretty much. The fire in my head has been doused. T. told me to drink hot whiskey. I didn’t.  Not because it wasn’t a good idea, I just forgot to uncork the bottle of Bush each evening.  Y. suggested I gently tap below my eyes, from the bridge of my nose to my temples, tracing the outline of the silver apples of a half moon.  She assured me it would relieve the pressure.  M. advised medicinal sighing and groaning, I didn’t need to be told twice, I’m a natural.  C. recommended boiling water in a bowl,told me to hover above it, a towel draped upon my head to trap the steam, and to breathe deeply.  I found a tiny bottle of clove oil and another of tea tree oil at the back of the bathroom cabinet and added a few drops of each.  I won’t go into what happened, but something surely did.  C.’s steamy prescription was signed off, not by the usual scribble of a doctor’s signature, rather, with a couple of lines from the lullaby, Dream Angus; an invocation to sleep well that night.  For, when one is not well, is in any way depleted, slightly broken, or fissured by life, the cure of all cures is sleep.  Little did she know (or maybe she did) that in sending me the words of Dream Angus, she was administering a perfect potion, casting a superlative spell.  She had hooked a berry on a thread and it swung rhythmically from one side to the other, hypnotising me to sleep.

I lay humming the melody into the shadows, smudging my bedroom with the rise and fall of sound smoke.  I had learned it in school, and every word was there, plucked from low branches of memory, harvested as easily as golden apples in October.

Dreams to sell, fine dreams to sell,

Angus is here wi’ dreams to sell.

Hush now my baby and sleep without fear,

For Angus will bring you a dream, my dear.

Can you no hush your weepin’ oh?

All the wee lambs are sleepin’ oh,

Birdies are nestlin’, nestlin’ taegether,

Dream Angus is hurtlin’ o’er the heather.

Flecked with Scots dialect, Dream Angus is one to file under, Scottish Traditional Folk Song.  That said, as far as I can piece together, it’s fashioned from the clay of Irish mythology.  In Ireland, he is ‘Áengus’, one of the Tuatha Dé Danann – Tribe of the Gods – a supernatural race. Áengus lived at Newgrange by the River Boyne, and famously fell in love with Caer, whom he had first seen in his dreams.  Every night for a year he dreamed that Caer stood by his bed, and when, in his half-sleep, he reached for her, she would melt away, running and fading through the brightening air.  Poor Áengus, I know well that semi-wakened feeling of trying to pin down one’s dream, only for it to turn into moth-like stars, flickering out and dying away; it slips the mind like a bar of soap hiding in the bath, hard to catch and quick to dissolve.

Áengus’s search for Caer was eventually fruitful.  He found her by Dragon’s Mouth Lake, where she was one of 150 girls chained in pairs, but his glimmering girl was unmistakable.  Worse was to come.  Not only was his love shackled, but every other a year, on November 1st, Caer was transformed into a swan, in which form she remained for full a year.  Love conquers all, as we well know, so Áengus turned himself into a swan, whereupon he and Caer flew off together singing a song so beautiful that all of Ireland slept without stirring for three days and three nights.  Is it any wonder that Áengus (or Angus) should be the man for the lullaby that dispenses vials of sweet dreams, pours down restorative sleep, uses his hazel wand to transport us, in deep slumber, to the dreamy peace of long dappled glass?  If you, like me, have any sort of a fire in your head when you lie awake at night wishing for sleep, you could do worse than to call Áengus by his name, or to huddle down and hum Dream Angus to yourself.

List to the curlew cryin’ oh

Fainter the echo dyin’ oh

Even the birds and beasties and sleeping

But my bonnie bairn is weepin, weepin.

Sweet the lavrock* sings at morn,

Heraldin’ in a bright new dawn

Wee lambs, they coorie* doon taegether

Alang with their ewies in the heather.

Dreams to sell, fine dreams to sell,

Angus is here wi’ dreams to sell.

Hush now my baby and sleep without fear,

For Angus will bring you a dream, my dear.



I’ve cut and peeled from Yeat’s, ‘The Song Of Wandering Aengus’. If you know the poem, you’ll spot the lines.


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