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Cold Iron

[words Rudyard Kipling, music Peter Bellamy; notes on Cold Iron at the Kipling Society]

Cold Iron is a story and a song from Rudyard Kipling’s book Rewards and Fairies. Peter Bellamy sang it on his first album of songs set to Kipling’s poems, Oak, Ash & Thorn. He noted:

Cold Iron comes from the story Cold Iron. The text of the song is not derived from the story but they share a common theme—the magical influence of cold iron over the lives not only of mortal man, but over those of the People of the Hills as well. The tune is not based on any partucilar folk-song, but if the listener can identify snatches, it would not surprise the composer.

As the original album wasn’t available anymore, Peter Bellamy re-recorded this and other songs with the help of Nigel Schofield, probably in the mid-1980s. The new version was finally included on the Fellside compilation Mr Bellamy, Mr Kipling & the Tradition.

Charlie Parr sang Cold Iron on Folk Police Recordings’ 2011 album of songs from Kipling’s “Puck” stories, Oak Ash Thorn.


Cold Iron

“Gold is for the mistress—silver for the maid!
Copper for the craftsman cunning at his trade.”
“Good!” said the Baron, a-sitting in his hall,
“But Iron—Cold Iron—is master of them all!”

And so he made rebellion ’gainst the King his liege,
Camped before his citadel and summoned it to siege—
“Nay!” said the cannoneer on the castle wall,
“But Iron—Cold Iron—shall be master of you all!”

Woe for the Baron and for his knights so strong,
When the cruel cannon-balls laid ’em all along!
He was taken prisoner, he was cast in thrall,
And Iron—Cold Iron—was master of it all!

Yet his King spake kindly (Oh, how kind a Lord!)
“What if I release thee now and give thee back thy sword?”
“Nay!” said the Baron, “please mock not at my fall,
For Iron—Cold Iron—is master of men all.”

“Tears are for the craven, prayers are for the clown—
Halters for the silly neck that cannot keep a crown.”
“As my loss is grievous, so my hope is small,
For Iron—Cold Iron—must be master of men all!”

Yet his King made answer (and few such Kings there be!)
“Here is Bread and here is Wine—sit you sup with me.
Eat and drink in Mary’s Name, the whiles I do recall
How Iron—Cold Iron—can be master of men all!”

He took the Wine and blessed It; He blessed and brake the Bread.
With His own Hands He served Them, and presently He said:
“See! These Hands were pierced with nails outside my city wall
They show Iron—Cold Iron—to be master of men all!

“Wounds are for the desperate, blows are for the strong,
Balm and oil for weary hearts all cut and bruised with wrong.
I forgive thy treason and I redeem thy fall—
For Iron—Cold Iron—must be master of men all!”

“Crowns are for the valiant—sceptres for the bold!
Thrones and powers for mighty men who dare to take and hold.”
“Nay!” said the Baron, kneeling in his hall,
“But Iron—Cold Iron—is master of men all!
Iron, out of Calvary, is master of men all!”