Just about all of us know the first verse of Rock-a-bye Baby, yes?

Rock a bye baby, on the tree top,
When the wind blows the cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks the cradle will fall,
And down will come baby, cradle and all.

There’s more to it, of course, but most of us only know that bit. And it’s kind of creepy, isn’t it? I mean, only when you’re old enough to discern what the lyrics actually mean do you realize how dark a little ditty this is. Seriously, who sings about their baby being knocked out of a tree, much less with the cradle falling on them after?

This comes up because I was at a cafe yesterday and heard one of my favorite tunes from the O’Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack on the sound system. See if you can gauge why it reminded me of the above.

Everybody’s gone in the cotton and the corn,
Didn’t leave nobody but the baby.

Okay, so this one’s about abandonment? “The fields gotta get worked, kiddo, so go to sleep.” But then there’s a final bit about “come lay your bones on the alabaster stones” which brings to mind cemetery imagery and …

Holy crap I think the baby dies in this one, too.

Pondering this connection, I vaguely remembered a lullaby I heard years-upon-years ago. It’s not one my parents or grandparents sang to me, I don’t think. I may have heard it on some TV show or something, maybe Hee-Haw or one of those Grand Ole Opry telecasts from the 70s. I could only recall the tune, which happens a lot more as I age; I get a snippet of the melody but not the words, or vice versa, then drive myself nuts with trying to jog my memory for a day or so.

I regret to say this one came back to me this morning.

No euphemisms here. No sugar-coating. No beating about the bush. Two children are abandoned in the woods where they cried (and they cried) until they died. The only thing that’s implied is the starvation. You know how long that takes, by the way?

I do.


I don’t even like babies, but that is some sick, sick shit. Supposedly, the song is based on a centuries-old story of an uncle who got custody of two kids when their parents died. What age and combination of nephew/niece I don’t know, but instead of raising them, he laid the helpless children out in the forest.

Nope – doesn’t make it better. Just proves there have always been sociopathic child-killers out there.

Here’s a classic version with lyrics from the Missouri State Max Hunter Folk Song Collection, which I now want to browse to find out just how many traditional “lullabies” involve infant mortality. I’ll bet there are a LOT, since most children died by age 5 just 100 or so years ago. I could submit a finished article to Death and the Maiden, I guess.

Meh. Maybe it’s best I just leave it alone.

Didn’t leave nobody but the baby.

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