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The Ballad of Minepit Shaw

[words Rudyard Kipling, music Peter Bellamy; notes on The Ballad of Minepit Shaw at the Kipling Society]

The Ballad of Minepit Shaw is 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:

The Ballad of Minepit Shaw is a very Child Ballad-like poem appearing in The Tree of Justice, and again the ballad and the story share little but a theme. The words are reminiscent of some of Jean Ritchie’s Appalachian variants of British ballads, and this setting was made with those songs in mind.


The Ballad of Minepit Shaw

About the time that taverns shut
And men can buy no beer,
Two lads went up by the keepers’ hut
To steal Lord Pelham’s deer.

Night and liquor was in their heads—
As they laughed and talked no bounds,
Till they waked the keepers on their beds,
And the keepers loosed the hounds.

They had killed a hart, they had killed a hind,
Ready for to carry away,
When they heard a whimper down the wind
And they heard a bloodhound bay.

So they took and they ran all across the fern,
With their crossbows in their hand,
Till they met a man with a green lantern
That called and bade ’em stand.

“O what are you doing, O Flesh and Blood,
And what’s your foolish will,
That you must break into Minepit Wood
And wake all the Folk of the Hill?”

“Oh, we’ve broke into Lord Pelham’s park,
We’ve killed Lord Pelham’s deer,
And if ever you heard a little dog bark
Then you’ll know why we come here!”

“We ask you let us go our way,
As fast as we can flee,
For if ever you heard a bloodhound bay,
You’ll know how pressed we be.”

“Oh, lay your crossbows on the bank
And drop the knife from your hands,
And though the hounds are at your flank
I’ll save you where you stand!”

So they laid their crossbows down on the bank,
And threw their knives in the wood,
The ground before them opened and sank
And saved ’em where they stood.

“Oh, what’s that roaring in our ears
That strikes us well-nigh dumb?”
“Oh, that is just how things appears
According as how they come.”

“And what are the stars before our eyes
That strikes us well-nigh blind?”
“Oh, that is just how things arise
According as how you find.”

“And why’s our bed so hard to the bones
Excepting where it’s cold?”
“Oh, that’s because it is precious stones
Excepting where it’s gold.”

“So think it over as you stand
For I tell you without fail,
If you haven’t got into Fairyland
You’re not in Lewes Gaol.”

So all night long they thought of it,
And, come the dawn, they saw
They’d tumbled into a great old pit,
At the bottom of Minepit Shaw.

And the keepers’ hound had followed ’em close
And broken her neck in the fall;
So they picked up their knives and their cross-bows
And buried the dog. That’s all.

But whether that man was a poacher too
Or a Pharisee so bold—
I reckon there’s more things told than are true,
And more things true than are told.