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I Wonder as I Wander

I Wonder as I Wander

First stanza: Traditional Appalachian carol; stanzas 2 and 3 John Jacob Niles, 1933

 

 The hymn has its origins in a song fragment collected by Niles on July 16, 1933. 

While in the town of Murphy in Appalachian North Carolina, Niles attended a fundraising meeting held by evangelicals who had been ordered out of town by the police. In his unpublished autobiography, he wrote of hearing the song:

“A girl had stepped out to the edge of the little platform attached to the automobile. She began to sing. Her clothes were unbelievable dirty and ragged, and she, too, was unwashed. Her ash-blond hair hung down in long skeins. ... But, best of all, she was beautiful, and in her untutored way, she could sing. She smiled as she sang, smiled rather sadly, and sang only a single line of a song.” 

The girl, named Annie Morgan, repeated the fragment seven times in exchange for a quarter per performance, and Niles left with "three lines of verse, a garbled fragment of melodic material—and a magnificent idea". (In various accounts of this story, Niles hears between one and three lines of the song.) Based on this fragment, Niles composed the version of "I Wonder as I Wander" that is known today, extending the melody to four lines and the lyrics to three stanzas.  It was originally published in Songs of the Hill Folk in 1934. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Wonder_as_I_Wander

 

 

I wonder as I wander, out under the sky,

How Jesus the Savior did come for to die

For poor ord'n'ry people like you and like I.

I wonder as I wander, out under the sky.

 

When Mary birthed Jesus, all in a cow's stall,

Came wise men and farmers and shepherds and all,

And high from the heavens a star's light did fall;

The promise of the ages it then did recall.

 

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 had it, 'cause he was the king.

 

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