I Am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger: origins and lyrics of the famous folk song

The Wayfaring Pilgrim 78rpm
The Wayfaring Pilgrim 78rpm
The Wayfaring Stranger is an American folk song with an uncertain origin. The song's various versions share a common theme of a traveler's perspective and reflect religious notions about life as a challenging spiritual journey. The melody was first documented by musicologists in the early 19th century while the lyrics were published in mid-century sources. The modern version of the melody and lyrics took shape only in the 20th century.
In 1929, Vaughan's Texas Quartet made the first commercial audio recording of The Wayfaring Stranger. However, it was not until two years later when Burl Ives recorded his version of the song that gained widespread popularity and became his signature radio show theme.
Over the years, the song has been covered by many artists including notable names such as Peter Seeger, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Bill MonroeEmmylou HarrisJoan Baez, Eva Cassidy, Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, Alison Krauss, Ed Sheeran, and Jack White.
Listen to I Am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger (arr. Leo Brouwer) performed by Andreas Scholl and Edin Karamazov:
Throughout its long history, The Wayfaring Stranger has appeared on audio recordings and in printed publications with various arrangements, lyrics, and titles. Some of these include The Wayfaring Pilgrim, Poor Wayfaring Stranger, The Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief, The Pilgrim's Song, I'm Just a-Going Over Home, and Going Over Jordan.
Here are the I'm Just a-Going Over Home lyrics published by Marshall W. Taylor in the 1883 songbook A Collection Revival Hymns and Plantation Melodies:
I am a poor wayfaring stranger
While journeying thro' this world of woe
Yet there’s no sickness, toil, or danger
In that bright world to which I go
I’m going there to see my father
I’m going there no more to roam
I’m just a-going over Jordan
I’m just a-going over home
I know dark clouds will gather round me
I know my way is rough and steep
Yet brighter fields lie just before me
Where God’s redeemed their vigils keep
I’m going there to see my mother
She said she’d meet me when I come
I’m just a-going over Jordan
I’m just a-going over home
I feel my sins are all forgiven
My hopes are placed on things above
I’m going o’er to yon bright heaven
Where all is joy and peace and love
I’m going there to see my children
I know they’re near my Father’s throne
I’m just a-going over Jordan
I’m just a-going over home
I want to wear a crown of glory
When I get home to that good land
I want to sing salvation’s story
In concert with the blood-washed band
I’m going there to see my classmates
Who 've gone before me one by one
I’m just a-going over Jordan
I 'm just a-going over home.
I’ll soon be free from every trial
My body will sleep in the old church-yard
I’ll drop the cross of self-denial
And enter on my great reward
I’m going there to see my Savior
To sing his praise in heaven’s dome
I’m just a-going over Jordan
I’m just a-going over home
Compositionally, I Am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger combines Aeolian mode with harmonic minor scale. The harmonic analysis of the song performed by Andreas Scholl and Edin Karamazov reveals the following chord progressions in the key of Cminor:
  1. C♯m–B–C♯m or i–VII–i
  2. F♯m–C♯m–B or iv–i–VII
  3. C♯m–B–C♯m or i–VII–i
  4. F♯m–G♯–C♯m or iv–V–i
  5. A–B–E or VI–VII–III
  6. A–B–G♯ or VI–VII–V
  7. C♯m–B–C♯m or i–VII–i
  8. F♯m–G♯–C♯m or iv–V–i
Note the classically-shaped perfect authentic cadence closing the 4th and 8th lines. The progressions accompanying the 5th and 6th lines share exclusively major chords and abruptly change the mood. Marked in red, the G♯ major dominant chord switches the Aeolian mode to the harmonic minor scale.
Discover more songs composed in Aeolian minor mode and their harmonic analyses in the following articles:
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