A Poor Brother's Hymnal
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
  I Wonder as I Wander

I Wonder as I Wander

(Appalachia)

Words and Music collected by John Jacob Niles
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF

1. I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die.
For poor on'ry people like you and like I...
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

2. When Mary birthed Jesus 'twas in a cow's stall,
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all.
But high from God's heaven a star's light did fall,
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

3. If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing,
A star in the sky, or a bird on the wing,
Or all of God's angels in heav'n for to sing,
He surely could have it, 'cause he was the King.

William L. Simon, ed., Reader’s Digest Merry Christmas Songbook (1981)

John Jacob Niles, the singer and collector of folk songs, said that he based his "I Wonder As I Wander" on a line or two of haunting music that he heard sung by a young girl in a small North Carolina town. He asked her to sing the few notes over and over, paying her a few pennies each time, until he had jotted it all down in his notebook. So close was the finished song to its Appalachian inspiration that Niles is often cited as arranger of the tune rather than its creator. The melody’s minor keg; minor intervals and unfinished cadences, as well as the poem s questioning pensiveness, make this one of the most plaintive of carols.

Earthly Delights: Xmas Carols

This carol was collected in Murphy, North Carolina in July 1933 by John Jacob Niles (1892-1980), a leading American folksong collector, who, it is said, paid a young travelling evangalist Annie Morgan 25c an hour to sing it until he had memorized it. Niles published it in his 1934 Songs of the Hill-Folk. It is often referred to as a traditional Appalachian carol, but just how far back it goes is not clear. Some believe it was only a generation old when collected. Its questioning pensiveness and gentle free speech lilt give it, nevertheless, a certain timeless quality.

   Em                Am7  Am6/7 Am7  Bm    Em    D
1 I wonder as I wan -der out under the sky
2 When Mary birthed Je - sus, ‘twas in a cows' stall,
3 If Jesus had want-ed for any wee thing:
4 I wonder as I wan -der out under the sky,

Bsus4 Em Am7 Am6/7 Am7 C C/b5 C Em
1 How Jesus, the Sav-ior, did come for to die.
2 With wisemen and far-mers and shep-herds and all
3 A star in the sky, or a bird on the wing;
4 How Jesus, the Sav-ior did come for to die

(Em) Am7 Am6/7 Am7 C C/b5 C D9
1 For poor, ornery peo-ple like you and like I
2 But high from God's hea-ven a star's light did fall,
3 Or all of God's an -gels in heaven to sing,
4 For poor, ornery peo-ple like you and like I

Bsus4 Em Am7 Am9 CM7 Bsus4/b6 Am9 Em
1 I wonder as I wan-der, out un - der the sky.
2 And the promise of a - ges it then did re -call.
3 He surely could have had it, ‘cause He was the King!
Bsus4 Em Am7 Am9 CM7 Bsus4/b6 Am9 Emsus2
4 I wonder as I wan-der, out un - der the sky.

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