Bye, baby Bunting,
Daddy’s gone a-hunting,
Gone to get a rabbit skin
To wrap the baby Bunting in.
Every listener to Bye Baby Bunting will of course be struck immediately by the unapologetic broadcast of child abandonment. By the time the first word breaks, Daddy has already gone a-hunting, and the song’s narrator has made up his or her mind to leave as well. It isn’t clear whether the baby will be in the charge of someone else, or left entirely alone. In either case, the departures seem hasty.
The singer doesn’t tell the baby where or why he is going, but makes a point of filling the tot in on Daddy’s objectives. The facts as we have them are rather bizarre, insofar as they describe a hunting trip; Father’s agenda is set in stone. He’s committed to bringing home a rabbit. We also have it plainly that Daddy’s interested in the rabbit’s skin exclusively – no consideration for the meat, or even its lucky paws. Considering “Bunting” is a term of endearment implying fat, perhaps these folks are well-off enough to not have to factor in sustainability.
But that only makes the abruptness of Daddy’s sojourn stranger. Daddy left before the babe knew that he was gone. Daddy left without saying goodbye. Daddy left as though realizing suddenly for the first time that his infant needed wrapping, as though there was not a scrap of cloth about that could suffice, as though there would never be another chance to slay a rabbit–
Daddy…never said that he was hunting rabbits.
Two animals keep rabbit skins in their possession: rabbits, and humans.
It’s suddenly very clear that some miserable wretch passed by, garbed in furry finery; Daddy grabbed his ax or whatever and went to slay the bastard. That explains Daddy’s certainty in what he will be bringing home. It also explains the swiftness and impulsivity of his egress. He mentions no meat because there is no meat attached to the skin he’s hunting.
Whoever sings this song is, apparently, making a very respectable judgment call, and get as far away from that hunter’s home as possible. The baby will stay safe and warm in the home of a woodsman clearly devoted, if deranged.
Case regretfully closed.