"Footprints", also known as "Footprints in the Sand", is a popular allegorical text written in prose.
This popular text describes an experience in which a person is walking on a beach with God. They leave two sets of footprints in the sand behind them. Looking back, the tracks represent various stages of the speaker's life. At various points, the two trails dwindle to one, especially at the lowest and most hopeless moments of the person's life. When questioning God, believing that the Lord must have abandoned his love during those times, God gives the explanation: "During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you."
Authorship and origins
The original authorship of the poem is disputed, with dozens of people claiming to have penned it. Rachel Aviv in a Poetry Foundation article discusses the various claims and suggests that the source of this poem is the opening paragraph of Charles Haddon Spurgeon's 1880 sermon "The Education of the Sons of God".
And did you ever walk out upon that lonely desert island upon which you were wrecked, and say, “I am alone, — alone, — alone, — nobody was ever here before me”? And did you suddenly pull up short as you noticed, in the sand, the footprints of a man? I remember right well passing through that experience; and when I looked, lo! it was not merely the footprints of a man that I saw, but I thought I knew whose feet had left those imprints; they were the marks of One who had been crucified, for there was the print of the nails. So I thought to myself, “If he has been here, it is a desert island no longer.
June Hadden Hobbs suggested that its origins lie in Mary B. C. Slade's 1871 hymn "Footsteps of Jesus" as "almost surely the source of the notion that Jesus's footprints have narrative significance that influences the way believers conduct their life stories .... it allows Jesus and a believer to inhabit the same space at the same time. [...] Jesus travels the path of the believer, instead of the other way round".
Margaret Fishback (Antolini), whose light verse appeared regularly in popular American magazines from the 1930s to the 1960s, had no connection to "Footprints," although her name confusingly resembles that of one claimed author, Canadian Margaret Fishback Powers. Powers is among the contenders who have resorted to litigation in hopes of establishing a claim.
Carolyn Carty also claims to have written the poem in 1963, at 6 years old, after a Sunday school teacher, to whom she was related. She is known to be a hostile contender of the "Footprints" poem and declines to be interviewed for it to this day, although she commonly writes letters to those who write about the poem online.
Several songs have been based on the poem. In 1983, Cristy Lane released country gospel version of the song called "Footprints in the Sand". The song peaked at #64 on Billboard's U.S. Country chart and #30 on the U.S. Christian chart.
In 1984 Ken Brown published a version of the poem in rhyme and rhythm as opposed to the more commonly known free form versions popular today.
In 1994, English singer Chris de Burgh included a summary of the poem as the fourth stanza in his song "Snows of New York" in the album This Way Up: In my dream we walked, you and I to the shore / Leaving footprints by the sea / And when there was just one set of prints in the sand / That was when you carried me.
Larry Norman released an album named after the poem in 1994, which was a major influence for the entire record. He had 16 tracks on the album, with "If You Don't Love My Lord" being the most popular track.
Per Magnusson, David Kreuger, Richard Page, and Simon Cowell wrote a song based on the poem, called "Footprints in the Sand", which was recorded by Leona Lewis. It appears on Lewis's debut album Spirit. Another song inspired by the poem called "Footprints" was recorded by Dancehall/Reggae group T.O.K.
The poem is parodied in the Half Man Half Biscuit song "Footprints", off the 1993 album This Leaden Pall. In the song, the Lord explains the fact that there is only one set of footprints this way: "During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, that must have been when I was appearing on . . . Junior Kick Start!"
- Aviv, Rachel. "Enter Sandman: Who wrote footprints?". Poetry Foundation. Retrieved 2008-08-05.
- Spurgeon, Charles Haddon (10 June 1880). The Education of the Sons of God (PDF). Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.
- I sing for I cannot be silent: the Feminization of American Hymnody, 1870-1920, June Hadden Hobbs, p. 123
- Colombo, Carmen. "Footprints in the Sand - 3 versions, 3 authors, 1 of the most inspirational poem ever written (wowzone.com) An amazing poem in search of its author - WOW Stories & Poetry". www.wowzone.com. Retrieved 2016-09-19.
- Colombo, Carmen. "Footprints in the Sand - The Full Story - one (1) poem with four (4) authors - One of the world's most inspirational poem with a sad story behind it. (wowzone.com) WOW Poetry, lyrics, music, stories, classics Wish Only Well". www.wowzone.com. Retrieved 2016-09-19.
- "Cristy Lane chart". AllMusic. Retrieved 12 August 2010.
- "Chris de Burgh lyrics". Metro Lyrics.
- "Leona to release Sport Relief song". Virgin Media. 2008-01-31. Retrieved 2008-02-01.
- "'Footprints' by Half Man Half Biscuit". The Half Man Half Biscuit Lyrics Project. Chris Rand. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
- "Archbishop Of Paris Press Release". Air France. 2009-06-03. Retrieved 2013-08-21.
- "xkcd: Footprints". 9 Sep 2015. Retrieved 20 Feb 2017.