Navigation Menu+

“Oft in the Stilly Night”

And Pa would play some of the old songs, ‘to go to sleep on,’ he said… — By the Shores of Silver Lake, Chapter 22, “Happy Winter Days”

Oft in the Stilly Night was written by Thomas Moore and included in his 1817 Lalla Rookh, an oriental romance. Moore was given 3000 pounds prior to publication, making it the largest sum ever offered (at the time) as payment for a single story. It tells the tale of a young Cashmerian poet who is hired to entertain the Indian princess, Lalla Rookh, while on her travels to be married to the King of Bucharia. Lalla Rookh is made up of four narrative poems, with a connecting tale in prose. A true melodrama, the princess falls in love with the young poet, who turns out to be the King in disguise. An 1861 illustrated edition of Lalla Rookh brought renewed interest of the tale in America.

Thomas Moore (1779-1852) was born in Dublin, Ireland, the son of a poor grocer. Moore was educated in Dublin and London, and he published his first book in 1801. In 1803 he went to Bermuda as a civil officer, and he traveled in America before returning to Ireland. Although highly critical of America in his writings, his songs – based on folk tunes – became very popular. Strong in his political beliefs, Moore once turned down an offer to become “Irish Poet Laureate” because he felt that he would have to tone down his political leanings. An Irish Catholic, Moore married a Protestant, and the couple had five children raised as Protestants. Moore was a member of the “Irish Nationalists,” a group dedicated to freeing Ireland from the English.

Thomas Moore was an excellent singer and published a volume of Irish songs, Irish Melodies, which highly influenced American composer, Stephen Foster. Although Moore spent most of his life in London, his poems and songs did much to strengthen Irish pride and to gain sympathy for the Irish National cause. He died in England in 1853; today, Thomas Moore is the official national poet of Ireland. “Oft in the Stilly Night” is a Scottish air which was included in A Selection of Popular National Airs, published in parts between 1818 and 1827, a collaboration between Moore and Sir John Stevenson.

The title of Chapter 22 in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s manuscript of By the Shores of Silver Lake is “Sundays in the Surveyors’ House.” Each Sunday evening, the Ingalls family gathers around the fire and lamplight while Pa plays his fiddle. They all sing Sunday School songs from the hymnbook Ma brought from Plum Creek (most likely Pure Gold for Sunday School) and after they tire of singing hymns, Pa plays and sings all the old songs they love, ending with “Oft in the Stilly Night.” After the song, the chapter ends with: “And so to bed with the new week well begun.”

(from Lalla Rookh, by Thomas Moore)

Oft, in the stilly night,
Ere slumber’s chain has bound me,
Fond memory brings the light
Of other days around me;
The smiles,the tears,
Of boyhood’s years,
The words of love then spoken;
The eyes that shone,
Now dimm’d and gone,
The cheerful hearts now broken!
Thus, in the stilly night,
Ere slumber’s chain hath bound me,
Sad memory brings the light
Of other days around me.

When I remember all
The friends, so link’d together,
I’ve seen around me fall,
Like leaves in wintry weather;
I feel like one
Who treads along
Some banquet-hall deserted,
Whose lights are fled,
Whose garlands dead,
And all but he departed!
Thus, in the stilly night,
Ere slumber’s chain has bound me,
Sad memory brings the light
Of other days around me

(from By the Shores of Silver Lake)

Oft in the stilly night,
Ere slumber’s chain has bound me,
Sweet memory brings the light
Of other days around me.

CLICK HERE to listen.



Click on the images above to view a copy of undated sheet music of “Oft in the Stilly Night.”

This music is archived in the Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music, part of Special Collections at the Milton S. Eisenhower Library of The Johns Hopkins University. The collection contains over 29,000 pieces of music and focuses on popular American music from 1780-1960.    


“Oft in the Stilly Night” (SSL 22)
     “Oft in the stilly night, ere slumber’s chain has bound me”