6 Comments

Appalachian Christmas Carol: I Wonder as I Wander


“I Wonder as I Wander” had its origins in a song fragment collected on July 16, 1933 by folklorist and singer John Jacob Niles.

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 In his unpublished autobiography, he wrote of hearing the song: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.

Niles left with “three lines of verse, and a garbled fragment of melodic material. Based on this fragment, Niles composed the version of “I Wonder as I Wander”.

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor on’ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky

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.

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 heaven to sing
He surely could have it, ’cause he was the King

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor on’ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky

6 comments on “Appalachian Christmas Carol: I Wonder as I Wander

  1. I first came across this song 30-odd years ago at school and it has stuck with me, although I don’t think I’ve ever heard it sung since (I guess it’s not that PC!) Thanks for posting it here – it’s a blessing.

  2. Maureen Hegarty has an absolutely beautiful voice.
    Thank you for putting the words to the song.

  3. […] Christmas Carol: I Wonder as I Wander December 24, 2009 | Posted by Polycarp Thanks to PJ for pointing this song […]

  4. Anastasis and chron11, im so glad this blessed you both.

    I hadn’t heard this in many many years and just happened to come upon it last night.

    Someone asked me long ago why i loved Appalachian music–especially Christian music. Its not only the music its the words. They are [to me] ‘pure’ because of the simplicity and truth in them. They just seem more real…

    A Merry Christmas to both of you… And God bless…

  5. Why “Appalachian” ?
    Seems and Irish aire.
    No?

    • Many of the early settlers came from Scotland and Ireland [my dad’s family as well] and brought their music with them.

      Much of the old Appalachian music still retains that ‘sound’.

      By the way, what is known as ‘line-singing’, also still found in some Appalachian churches today, came directly from Scotland.

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