Bye, baby Bunting,
Daddy’s gone a-hunting,
Gone to get a rabbit skin
To wrap the baby Bunting in.
The perturbing thing that should immediately strike this song’s every listener is the tone of unapologetic child abandonment. Daddy’s already gone a-hunting by the time the first word breaks, and we realize the singer of the song, whoever she or he may be, is also leaving now.
The narrator doesn’t tell the baby where or why she or he is going, but makes a point of filling the tot in on Daddy’s objectives; a defensive gesture, surely, and smacking of guilt. It isn’t clear whether the baby will be in the charge of someone else, or left entirely alone. Either way, something about the hasty departures are coming across as sinister.
The facts as we have them regarding Daddy don’t make much sense, either. This doesn’t sound like any successful hunting trip I’ve ever heard described. Father’s agenda’s set in stone –– he’s committed to bringing home a rabbit, with no line of exception. We also have it plainly that Daddy’s interested in the rabbit’s skin exclusively, with no consideration for the meat or paws. Considering “Bunting” is a term of endearment implying fat, perhaps these folks are well-off enough to not have to factor in sustainability or logistical surprise.
But that only makes the abruptness of Daddy’s sojourn more bizarre. 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–
Wait. Daddy…never said that he was hunting rabbits.
He’s getting a rabbit skin. Two animals keep rabbit skins in their possession: rabbits, and men.
It’s suddenly very clear to us why Daddy is so certain of what he will be bringing home, and why he left in such a hurry. It is apparent now that Daddy has impulsively taken his weapon of choice after whichever miserable wretch happened by garbed in furry finery. Our narrator has, apparently, made a very respectable judgment call, and taken leave of the baby belonging to a devoted, if deranged, hunter.