The Old Churchyard

The entire month of November is a time to remember the faithful departed, and (as ever) their ranks continue to grow- a cause of sadness for us, and surely a cause of great joy for them.

Amid all the good, proper sacred music being posted here and on Facebook and elsewhere as tributes, I thought I would post one of my favorite songs about death – a very unliturgical, but intensely haunting English folk hymn. I find the music stirs my soul, and the lyrics resonate with truth.

The Old Churchyard

Come, come with me out to the old churchyard,
I so well know those paths ‘neath the soft green sward.
Friends slumber in there that we want to regard;
We will trace out their names in the old churchyard.

Mourn not for them, their trials are o’er,
And why weep for those who will weep no more?
For sweet is their sleep, though cold and hard
Their pillows may be in the old churchyard.

I know that it’s vain when our friends depart
To breathe kind words to a broken heart;
And I know that the joy of life is marred
When we follow lost friends to the old churchyard.

But were I at rest ‘neath yonder tree,
Oh, why would you weep, my friends, for me?
I’m so weary, so wayworn, why would you retard
The peace I seek in the old churchyard?

Why weep for me, for I’m anxious to go
To that haven of rest where no tears ever flow;
And I fear not to enter that dark lonely tomb
Where our saviour has lain and conquered the gloom.

I rest in the hope that one bright day
Sunshine will burst to these prisons of clay,
And old Gabriel’s trumpet and voice of the Lord
Will wake up the dead in the old churchyard.

8 Replies to “The Old Churchyard”

  1. Great West Gallery style setting and a perfect song for this month of remembrances and prayers for the dead.

    Of course, if you parse out the tune from the tenor, I think it's a variant of Kingsfold which Ralph Vaughn Williams paired with "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say" in the 1906 English Hymnal. The tune's first published in the 1893 collection "English Country Songs" and also shows up in the 1928 Oxford Book of Carols with Dives and Lazarus. In short, it's an all-around model winner.

    Guess I'll hum this all day and definitely check out the Watersons!

  2. Apt since Lal Waterson and now Mike Waterson have passed. Norma Waterson sings with husband Martin Carthy and with daughter Eliza as Waterson Carthy and dip into this genre still. They also joined with others to form groups like Blue Murder to do the same.

    This is another good example of something Cromwell's troops might have sung as they rampaged across Ireland.

    Swan Arcade was another group that sang these songs. Babylon is Fallen is in the Sacred Harp songbook and another one that is possibly from Cromwellian era.

    Another group that was singing in the early days of the Watersons was The Young Tradition. The late Peter Bellamy, Royston Wood, and Dolly Collins.

  3. Oh no, YouTube madness! Thanks for all the recommendations. Definitely something to look forward to this evening.

  4. I thought I was the only one on this site that sang Sacred Harp or identifies the 5 seconds of folk on Radio Shropshire's Sunday Folk show. Thanks for your interest.

  5. A nice sentimental folk song and all, but the most important thing about this month is that we pray and offer holy Mass intentions for the faithful departed souls.

  6. But are these singers Irish? To my ear they sound more either Cornish or Sommerset in England. They are very good.

  7. Have you heard the "new" Young Tradition CD, "Oberlin 1968"? It's a live recording of a college gig they did in the USA which has recently been rediscovered & remastered. It's all unaccompanied, so lacks some of the variety of a record like "Galleries", but gives a wonderful sense of why their live performances were so admired. Heather Wood was the female voice; the Collins sisters were just "guests" on the recording you linked too – for which may thanks!

    My parents saw Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick the other day. They are still brilliant, apparently.

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