"Wee Willie Winkie" is a Scottish nursery rhyme whose titular figure has become popular as a personification of sleep. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 13711.

"Wee Willie Winkie"
1940 WPA poster using Wee Willie Winkie to promote children's libraries
Nursery rhyme
Lyricist(s)William Miller

Scots poet William Miller (1810-1872), appears to have popularised a pre-existing nursery rhyme, adding additional verses to make up a five stanza poem. Miller’s “Willie Winkie: A Nursery Rhyme’ was first published in a collection of poems called Whistle-Binkie: Stories for the Social Circle (1841)1.[1][2][3] with the footer that ‘Willie Winkie’ was “The Scottish Nursery Morpheus” indicating, that Miller was drawing upon an established folkloric figure of sleep.

A chapbook c.1820 called The Cries of Banbury and London contain the singular first verse ‘little willie winkie’, pre-dates the publication of Miller’s poem. Another nursery collection, published in London 3 years after Miller’s poem, also contains just the first stanza, suggesting that the lyrics were circulating independently in the 1840s (Iona and Peter Opie Oxford, p.512-513).


A tirling pin from the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, a primitive form of door bell, it was scraped up and down to make a rattling sound that would announce a visitor's presence
The memorial to the author, William Miller, in Glasgow

Original text of 1841 in Scots, alongside a paraphrased English version (from 1844):

Origins and meaning


The poem was written by William Miller (1810–1872), first printed in Whistle-binkie: Stories for the Fireside in 1841 and re-printed in Whistle-Binkie; a Collection of Songs for the Social Circle published in 1873.[1][2][3][5] In Jacobite songs Willie Winkie referred to King William III of England, one example being "The Last Will and Testament of Willie winkie"[6] but it seems likely that Miller was simply using the name rather than writing a Jacobite satire.[5]

Such was the popularity of Wee Willie Winkie that the character has become one of several bedtime entities such as the Sandman, Ole Lukøje of Scandinavia, Klaas Vaak of the Netherlands, Dormette of France[7] and Billy Winker in Lancashire.[8]


  1. ^ a b Cunningham, Valentine (14 April 2000). The Victorians. ISBN 9780631199168. Retrieved 3 May 2013 – via Google Books.
  2. ^ a b "William Miller". Scottish-places.info. Retrieved 3 May 2013.
  3. ^ a b "Dennistoun online". Dennistoun.co.uk. Retrieved 3 May 2013.
  4. ^ Carrick, John Donald; Rodger, Alexander (1842). "Willie Winkie". Whistle-binkie; a collection of songs for the social circle. Retrieved 1 June 2010.
  5. ^ a b c I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), pp. 424–5.
  6. ^ "Full text of "A Dictionary of Lowland Scotch, with an introductory chapter on the poetry, humor, and literary history of the Scottish language and an appendix of Scottish proverbs"". 1888. Retrieved 3 May 2013.
  7. ^ C. Rose, Spirits, Fairies, Gnomes, and Goblins: an Encyclopedia of the Little People (ABC-CLIO, 1996), p. 231.
  8. ^ Briggs, Katharine (1976). An Encyclopedia of Fairies. Pantheon Books. pp. 24, 429. ISBN 0394409183.