Guthrie, Rimbaud, and Billy the Kid

I often find legends and myths about Billy the Kid more fascinating than factual narratives. So little is actually known about William H. Bonney, that I read most histories of his life with a suspicious mind, and the novels, television shows, and movies are sometimes more interesting than the history books.

Someone with a creative mind might, for example, begin with these lines from Woody Guthrie's song "Billy the Kid" and tell a complicated and transfixing story.

There's many a man with a face fine and fair
Who starts out in life with a chance to be square,
But just like poor Billy he wanders astray
And loses his life in the very same way.


Someone might even take these lines from the "The Seven-Year-Old Poet" by Arthur Rimbaud, a French writer who most likely never heard of William H. Bonney, and create a new and compelling myth of the Kid's life.

And so the Mother, shutting up the duty book,
Went, proud and satisfied. She did not see the look
In the blue eyes, or how with secret loathing wild,
Beneath the prominent brow, a soul raged in her child.


In short, long after all of us who are alive today are gone, people will still be telling stories about Billy the Kid.


The lyric quoted about is not used in this version of Woody Guthrie's song.