Leadbelly • John Hardy
A good, ol' fashion blues usually has at least one good, obvious direction to go in when looking at it from a dharmic perspective. This one is gold in just about every verse, starting right off with John Hardy being described as a "desperate little man."
The most obvious theme I could have chosen would be karmic. He's a murderous man who tries to run from his actions but the law (law of Dharma?) eventually catches up to him and he pays for his actions with his life. (At least his wife has a good grasp of the third precept, exclaiming her faithfulness to him.)
I usually prefer to go with the less obvious, though, if my own wisdom is sharp enough to perceive it. And there are a couple things I found quite interesting in this one. As I mentioned, there's the fact that you can't run from your karma. It's stuck to us until we work it out. The second is what I find the most interesting. When finally left with no choice but to confront his karma, a very important thing happens; he takes responsibility and accepts the consequence. "I've been the death of many a poor boy, and now I am ready to die, now I am ready to die."
The reason I find this so interesting is because in more subtle ways we are constantly choosing the path to our death. What few of us realize is that there is a path that leads away from death.
The Dhammapada, verse 21.
Freedom is difficult:
Heedfulness is the Deathless path,
heedlessness, the path to death.
Those who are heedful do not die,
heedless are as if already dead.