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Shaking of the Sheets / Doleful Dance of Death

[ Roud V11404 ; trad.]

Steeleye Span recorded Shaking of the Sheets, coupled with the Adderbury Morris tune The Black Joke in 1989 for their album Tempted and Tried. The album’s sleeve notes commented laconically:

Six feet of earth makes us all of one size.

A live recording at the Beck Theatre on 16 September 1989 was released on the video A 20th Anniversary Celebration. Another live recording from 1994 was released on the album Steeleye Span in Concert.

John Spiers and Jon Boden recorded the similar themed Doleful Dance of Death in 2005 for their CD Songs and Jon Boden sang it as the 26 August 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. They commented in their CD’s notes:

Jon heard this song from the inimitable Tim Healey of the excellent Oxford Waits, who came across it in the Oxford University Broadside Collection. Jon has doctored the lyrics fairly drastically but it can be heard in all its 17th century glory on Switter Swotter (Beautiful Jo BEJOCD-44).

This video shows Jon Boden & The Remnant Kings at Cecil Sharp House, London, on 23 June 2011 as part of Jon Boden’s A Folk Song a Day Midsummer Concert presented by the EFDSS:


Steeleye Span sing Shaking of the Sheets

Dance, dance the shaking of the sheets,
Dance, dance when you hear the piper playing,
Everyone must dance
The Shaking of the Sheets with me.

Bring away the beggar, bring away the king,
And every man in his degree.
Bring away the oldest and the youngest thing,
Come to death and follow me.

Bring away the merchant who made his money in France,
And the crafty banker too,
When you hear the piper, you and I must dance
The dance that everyone must do.


I’ll find you in the courtrooms, I’ll find you in the schools,
When you hear the piper play.
I’ll take away the wise men, I’ll take away the fools
And bring their bodies all to clay.

All the politicians of high and low degree,
Lords and ladies, great and small.
Don’t think that you’ll escape and need not dance with me,
I’ll make you come when I do call.

2× Chorus

It may be in the day, it may be in the night,
Prepare yourselves to dance and pray.
That when the piper plays “The Shaking of the Sheets”
You may to Heaven dance the way.

2× Chorus

Spiers & Boden sing Doleful Dance of Death

Can you dance the shaking of the sheets,
The dance that everyone must do?
Hear the drummer strike a noble beat,
The harp ring sweet and true.
Gather rosebuds while you may,
For when you hear the piper play,
You may to heaven dance away,
You may to heaven dance away.

You may fill your pockets up with gold
And dress all in rich array.
Wise or foolish, meek or bold,
There’s only a penny left to pay.
The poorest man is crowned complete
The day he finds his winding sheet,
For death is the man that all must meet,
Yes, death is the man that all must meet.

You may build your mansions high
With roaring fires to keep you warm.
Shut the shutters, bolt the gates,
Draw curtains tightly against the storm.
The strongest tower its hearth betrays
When my tune the minstrel plays,
A doleful dance to end your days,
A doleful dance to end your days.


Thanks to Patrick Montague for lyrics corrections.