THE CROW ON THE CRADLE

The sheep’s in the meadow
The cow’s in the corn
Now is the time for a child to be born
He’ll laugh at the moon
And cry for the sun
And if it’s a boy he’ll carry a gun.
Sang the crow on the cradle.

And if it should be that this baby’s a girl
Never you mind if her hair doesn’t curl
With rings on her fingers
And bells on her toes
And a bomber above her wherever she goes
Sang the crow on the cradle

The crow on the cradle
The black and the white
Somebody’s baby is born for a fight
The crow on the cradle
The white and the black
Somebody’s baby is not coming back
Sang the crow on the cradle

Your mother and father will sweat and they’ll slave
To build you a coffin and dig you a grave
Hush-a-bye little one, never you weep
For we’ve got a toy that can put you to sleep
Sang the crow on the cradle

Bring me my gun, and i’ll shoot that bird dead
That’s what your mother and father once said
The crow on the cradle, what can we do
Ah, this is a thing that I’ll leave up to you
Sang the crow on the cradle.

Ah, this is a thing that I’ll leave up to you,
Sang the crow on the cradle

BY SYDNEY CARTER

Corvus corax (FWS).jpg

15 Comments

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15 responses to “THE CROW ON THE CRADLE

  1. Wow. I never heard of that one before. I’m ready to discuss! Who is this crow? Death? Destiny? Prejudice?

    I’m sort of confused by the line ‘the black and the white’… it can be interpreted so many ways. Maybe that’s why I like this poem so much.

  2. Ann

    Hello, Shecodes.

    Glad you liked the song.

    Sydney Carter (1915-2004), wrote the song to reflect his time era (the 1960s) when nuclear war was a sword of Damocles that hung over the world’s head. (Bay of Pigs, Cold War, etc.)

    About Carter. He was a pacifist, and much of his music put him on the outs with the Church of England and many Christians, and Jews. He was very much inspired by American Shaker music. Known foremost for their simple and beautiful furniture, Shakers music played a much longer and enduring influence in their religion. One of the most famous of ballet scores (Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring”), includes a symphonic version of the well-known Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts,” which was originally written for dancing. If you are not familiar with Shaker Music, here are some websites to get you started:

    http://www.americanmusicpreservation.com/shakermusic4.htm

    http://www.quiltersmuse.com/simple_gifts.htm

    http://home.att.net/~shakercrafts/docs/hall.html

    Carter belived that Jesus danced and sang, not only in people’s households Jesus visited, but also in the Church, to celebrate and worship God. (There is a verse in the Bible which states: “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord”, and this would lend towards many people’s beliefs that Jesus danced also in the Church, as a sign of praising God. And that has been interpreted to mean singing and dancing in God’s presence.) Many elders and congregants in the contemporary Church do not profess this belief of Jesus.

    Taking his inspiration from Jesus, and from a statue of Shiva as Nataraja, Sydney wrote the lyrics “Lord Of The Dance” in 1963, from an adaptation of Joseph Brackett’s “Simple Gifts”, as well as a tribute to Shaker music.

    Carter later stated, “I did not think the churches would like it at all. I thought many people would find it pretty far flown, probably heretical and anyway dubiously Christian. But in fact people did sing it and, unknown to me, it touched a chord… Anyway, it’s the sort of Christianity I believe in.”

    “I see Christ as the incarnation of the piper who is calling us. He dances that shape and pattern which is at the heart of our reality. By Christ I mean not only Jesus; in other times and places, other planets, there may be other Lords of the Dance. But Jesus is the one I know of first and best. I sing of the dancing pattern in the life and words of Jesus.
    Whether Jesus ever leaped in Galilee to the rhythm of a pipe or drum I do not know. We are told that David danced (and as an act of worship too), so it is not impossible. The fact that many Christians have regarded dancing as a bit ungodly (in a church, at any rate) does not mean that Jesus did. The Shakers didn’t…
    Green Print for Song (1974)

    The album, “Nothing Fixed Or Final”, has the song “Crow And The Cradle”.

    You are right in that this song can lend itself to many interpretations.

    Carter’s wrote the lyrics to lends credence to his fear of nuclear annihilation, hence this verse:

    “And a bomber above her wherever she goes.”

    The phrases:

    “The black and the white”;
    “The white and the black”;

    “Somebody’s child is born for a fight”;
    “Somebody’s child is not coming back

    can be relevant to the enmity between black and white Americans as well as the cruelty of war that takes parents son sent into battle.

    The black and white reference can be looked as the continued differences between black and white Americans due to the legacy of slavery and segregation.

    The cradle is obvious: a place where a newborn baby sleeps. The baby’s future depending on whether it was born a boy OR a girl. The boy destined to fight in wars; the girl destined to be protected from those wars (This during a time when women were not inducted into the military for fighting/combat roles.)

    The black and white interpretation of war can also be seen with many of those who died in the Vietnam war were Black, Latinos, and poor Whites.
    Also, black Americans served in many wars for America in higher numbers in disproportion to their numbers of the American population. (“Somebodys child is born for a fight; somebody’s baby is not coming back”.) Black people’s presence in America leads to one conclusion of our being born “for a fight”, not to mention, many black people who have suffered at the hands of Jane Crow segregation/lynching/deaths/murders at the height of the Civil Rights Movement (somebodys baby is not coming back”.)
    Bsically “The Crow on the Cradle” is an anti-war song.

    Now the Crow.

    Crows are related to ravens. Crows are birds with remarkable intelligence, and are known to score high on avian intelligence tests. In Native American folklore, the crow is known as the Trickster (similar to Afro-American’s Anasi the Spider, in Black American folklore).

    A crow sitting on a child’s cradle would be a terrible foreshadowing for that child.

    Crows are considered harbingers of doom or death, because of their dark plumage, unnerving calls, and tendency to eat carrion. They are commonly thought to circle above scenes of death such as battles. The Child ballad The Three Ravens ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Three_Ravens )depicts three ravens discussing whether they can eat a dead knight, but finds that his hawk, his hound, and his true love prevent them; in the parody version The Twa Corbies (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The-Twa-Corbies.jpg ) , these guards have already forgotten the dead man, and the ravens can eat their fill. Their depiction of evil has also led to some exaggeration of their appetite. In modern films such as “Damien: Omen II”, “Exorcist: The Beginning”, and “Excalibur”, crows are shown tearing out people’s eyes and eating the eyes whilethe person is still alive. Crows have never been known for this behavior due to their high preference for carrion.

    In occult circles, distinctions are sometimes made between crows and ravens. In mythology and folklore as a whole, crows tend to be symbolic more of the spiritual aspect of death, or the transition of the spirit into the afterlife, whereas ravens tend more often to be associated with the negative (physical) aspect of death. However, few if any individual mythologies or folklores make such a distinction, and there are ample exceptions. Another reason for this distinction is that while crows are typically highly social animals, ravens don’t seem to congregate in large numbers anywhere but:

    Near carrion where they meet seemingly by chance, or
    At cemeteries, where large numbers sometimes live together, even though carrion there is no more available (and probably less attainable) than any road or field kill.

    So, this song can be interpreted differently by each person who hears it.

    Hope that helps explain “The Crow and the Cradle”, to you 😉

    • Al Heinzeroth

      “The Crow On the Cradle” has very little to do with Sydney Carter. He did re-write much of what would no be totally not understandable, mostly Celtic language and verse. He re-wrote it as a dire warning about the use of nuclear power IN ANY WAY, power, weapons, anything was no good and I agree. The “black and the white” and “the white and the black” are two of the same phrase turned around , yet mean the same, as a black and white photograph, with nuclear energy there is no middle ground, no “gray area” so to speak. As Einstein always cautioned his pupils (the man knew full well himself already how to spit the atom! “Never split the atom, for the day you do, you begin to kill all mankind!” Upon hearing of their success at Los Alamos,all the brilliant mind (I feel the most brilliant to hav eever lied for with today’s accelerators and all we have, not a single equation has yet been debunked) Einstein simply said, “Well, it’s one Hell of a way to boil a cup of water!” If that man could see us today, using our microwaves to re-heat our coffee’s a dozen times a day.

      • Steve

        hi Al, it is a while since your reply but I am interested to establish the source of Crow on the Cradle before Sydney Carter. Do you have refences ?

  3. David Holcombe

    Could the ” black and the white” also refer to the Magpie, a member of the crow family, I think?
    Famous in the old superstitious rhyme, “One for sorrow, two for joy;
    Three for a girl and four for a boy;
    Five for silver, six for gold;
    Seven for a secret, never to be told.”

  4. Lapin P.

    I thought the “black and white” might refer to the dichotomous way issues tend to be framed when we approach the question of war. “Our side” is either wrong our right, and the cause either completely justified, or totally flawed.

    • Ruskinite

      That’s EXACTLY how I (a person of color) interpreted it. Although I’m still trying to find out how, if this IS in fact based off a “centuries” old song, how the phrase “and a bomber above her…” could’ve been written. I read the explanation above about it being re-written in the 1960’s, but I’d like to see what the original lyrics were.

  5. Credit Due

    Actually, he didn’t write the song from scratch himself. Like many of his songs, he “borrowed” it from a very old folk tune.

    • Ann

      “Actually, he didn’t write the song from scratch himself. Like many of his songs, he “borrowed” it from a very old folk tune.”

      That is correct.

      In my original post (when preparing it for posting), I pointed this out, but, through the computer eating my first post, and my having to re-write my entire post all over again, I had forgotten to include this in my final post. Your comment is a reminder to me to track down the original source of the old folk tune, and edit my post.

  6. Hal Davis

    This was posted to YouTube recently:

    C6H12B26 Well originally an english northern song fron the XVI/XVII th century called ” The kye’s (cows) in the meadow “, The sheep’s in the corn, Thy o’erlang in thy bed, Bonny at morn, Canny at neet, … The bird’s in their nest, and the troot’s in the burn ; thy hinders thy mother at every turn. Canny at neet, bonny at morn. … We’re all laid idle Wi’ keepin’ in the bairn ; The lad will not work and the lass will not lairn …”

  7. jim little

    Nothing scholarly here, just a sad observation.

    I grew up with the “bomber above me”, I distinctly remember the day SAC (Strategic Air Command) stood down. How moved I was, and how hopeful that this would be the beginning of a time the world would be safe. This in spite of the lessons of history.

    As we have seen history won, we lost.

  8. Hello Ann, I don’t mind all the details that you said, and all the symbolism, but it does not take into account something much older, the publication of which led me to this site, my brother having posted your link on my post. But to save all the linking I paste below what I wrote…. about the crow/s:
    .
    .
    Once upon a time crows were respected for what they were and are, very smart birds. In those days Odin was the main god and, since crows were respected for their smartness, He had two crows called Hugir and Munin (knowledge and wisdom. So the people, Odin’s subjects, when they could not give an answer would often say “only Odin and the Crows know”, which they might have thought was true. Then One day Christanity came in and in order to eradicate Odin and his crows, caused the direct reference to them to be deleted, and replaced by God and a poor replacement of the crows came into the expression. To further remove crows from being likeable, which they would have been in Norse times, more expressions that demonised crows were invented. If something goes wrong or you are very surprised in Australia you might say “Stone the crows” which came from a wish; “God stone the crows”, where the person expressing it. This means: “Because I was so shocked I wish in compliance to you God, that you would stone ODIN’s birds” – at least these words were originally spoken so that the people around you could think that that was your wish, so that they could see you comply to the religion and god that apparently everybody else complied to. Similarly came in the expression “Vi eldar inte för kråkorna” (We don’t fire (heat) for the crows), when somebody leaves the door open in that godforsaken climate of Sweden. – This means that the crows are too bad in the new religion to be given any warmth. When a child in school writes badly he is told about his “kråkfötter” (crows feet), intending the irregular writing that he has produced, and one’s Danish parents might say that they cannot read your “kragetæer” (crows toes), because your writing is illegible to them, or at least that it has the roughness of a child’s writing. These “kråkfötter” and “kragetæer” are also depicting the crow in a bad light, again to emphatically keep them out of “our new religion with the christian God”. Also Hitchcock made a film called “the birds” in which a fear of crows is instilled in any gullible viewer. By the word “birds” Hitchcock probably took a distance from stating his opinion, By using “crows” he played on the whole of the northern European cultural fear or dislike for crows, which has for centuries been instilled by Christianity ONLY in order to keep out the return of ODIN. So it was not for no reason that they were keeping out the return of respect for crows, ODIN’s birds.
    .
    And a later addition after some comments: “”God stone the crows”, is an actually a backward admission that the crows are smart. “God stone the crows” is a request to god to kill them. Which other bird is so much to be feared that they need to be killed. This suggests that they are MORE than other birds.

  9. Hi Ann, I’d like to remember you that black people was not allowded to fight in wars between Corean war for racist laws. Only 2 big exceptions: the first in Civil War with the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first formal unit of the US Army to be made up entirely of African American men (refer to WIKIPEDIA http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glory_(1989_film)), THE OTHER DURING WWII with The Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African American pilots (ref. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuskegee_Airmen).
    Only in 1948, with the ‘Executive Order 9981, on 26 July 9981 President Truman issues an act that decrees the end of segregation in the armed forces.

    ****************************************
    MODERATOR:

    Blacks serving in only two wars in American military history? Woefully wrong, and supremely incorrect.

    Blacks fought in the wars America was involved in, whether segregated or desegregated:

    -The Colonial/Revolutionary War: Blacks fought as slaves and free on both sides of the war;

    -War of 1812: During the War of 1812, about one-quarter of the personnel in the American naval squadrons of the Battle of Lake Erie were black, and portrait renderings of the battle on the wall of the Nation’s Capitol and the rotunda of Ohio’s Capitol show that blacks played a significant role in it;

    -U.S. Civil War: The 1ST South Carolina Infantry, was the first Black regiment formed in the Union, on August 25, 1862. Although the regiment was not involved in any of the war’s major battles, the unit did engage in some combat. Its first commander was Thomas Wentworth Higginson. The second black regiment raised in the North in March, 1863, was the 54TH Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, which was commanded by Col. Robert Gould Shaw;

    -World War I: One of the most distinguished Black units was the 369th Infantry Regiment, known as the “Harlem Hellfighters”, which was on the front lines for six months, longer than any other American unit in the war. 171 members of the 369th were awarded the Legion of Merit;

    -World War II: Many units fought. One such unit was the 761ST Tank Battalion under Gen. George S. Patton. This unit helped liberate the Gunskirchen concentration camp in Austria, on May 6, 1944;

    -Korean War: Two enlisted men from the 24th Infantry Regiment (still a segregated unit), Cornelius H. Charlton and William Thompson, posthumously received the Medal of Honor for actions during the war. Jesse L. Brown became the U.S. Navy’s first Black aviator in October 1948. He was killed when his plane was shot down during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. The U.S. Navy honored Jesse Brown by naming an escort ship after him—the U.S.S. Jesse L. Brown.

    -Vietnam War: Blacks fighting in this war, already documented;

    -Persian Gulf War and the present: Blacks still serving their country.

  10. Nick

    Can anybody please help me find a source for the words that went went with the original version of the Crow on the Cradle. . n

  11. I have the song sung by Judy Collins. I interpreted it as a child not surviving its first month of life in a turbulent time.

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