Wayfaring Stranger

cd cover: Jealous of the Moon(P.D./Arr. Scott Ainslie
/Cattail Music)

I am a poor wayfaring stranger travelin’ through this world alone.
But there’s no sickness, toil or danger in that bright land to which I go.
I’m going there to see my mother. I’m going there no more to roam.
I’m only goin’ over Jordan. I’m only goin’ over home.

I know dark clouds will gather ’round me. I know my way is rough and steep.
But beautiful fields lie just beyond me, where souls redeemed their vigils keep.
And I’m going there to see my father. I’m going there no more to roam.
I’m only goin’ over Jordan. I’m only goin’ over home.

I want to wear that crown of Glory, when I get there to that bright land.
I want to shout down Satan’s story in concert with the blood-washed band.
I’m going there to see my brothers; they said they’d meet me when I come.
I’m only goin’ over Jordan. I’m only goin’ over home.

Best-known today as a white, mountain spiritual, Wayforaing Stranger began life as a hypnotic black ring-shout, according to written accounts from the late 1700’s. My friend George Higgs — a great Peidmont harmonica player in the tradition of Sonny Terry and Peg Leg Sam — remembers his grandmother singing this song in the kitchen of the house they shared in the 1930s. It has captivated me for more thatn twenty years. One night late in the mountains of Virginia, with a National guitar in my lap and the rest of the world asleep, this song came visiting. Ranging around the strings like the pointer on a OUIJA board, the slide seemed to move with a mind of its own. And like James Merrill, in The Book of Ephriam, I took dictation. With every playing, a part of that evening comes back.

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