The Wayfaring Stranger (song)

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"The Wayfaring Stranger"
Published1858 (earliest known)
GenreAmerican folk music, Gospel

"The Wayfaring Stranger" (also known as "Poor Wayfaring Stranger", "I Am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger", or "Wayfaring Pilgrim"), Roud 3339, is a well-known American folk and gospel song likely originating in the early 19th century[1] about a plaintive soul on the journey through life. As with most folk songs, many variations of the lyrics exist and many versions of this song have been published over time by popular singers, often being linked to times of hardship and notable experiences in the singers' lives, such as the case with Burl Ives' autobiography.[2]

According to the book The Makers of the Sacred Harp, by David Warren Steel and Richard H. Hulan, the lyrics were published in 1858 in Joseph Bever's Christian Songster, which was a collection of popular hymns and spiritual songs of the time.[3] This may or may not have been the first time the song appeared in English print, and the songwriter is unknown. Steel and Hulan suggest the song was derived from an 1816 German-language hymn, "Ich bin ja nur ein Gast auf Erden" by Isaac Niswander.[4]

During and for several years after the American Civil War, the lyrics were known as the Libby Prison Hymn.[5] This was because the words had been inscribed by a dying Union soldier incarcerated in Libby Prison, a warehouse converted to a notorious Confederate prison in Richmond, Virginia known for its adverse conditions and high death rate. It had been believed that the dying soldier had authored the song to comfort a disabled soldier, but this was not the case since it had been published several years before the Civil War in 1858, before Libby Prison was put into service (1862).[6]

Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.[7]

Notable versions[edit]


  1. ^ Norman Cazden, Herbert Haufrecht, Norman Studer. Folk Songs of the Catskills. SUNY Press, 1982. 292-94. ISBN 0-87395-581-1
  2. ^ a b c "Poor Wayfaring Stranger: What is the song used in 1917 and The Last of Us 2 soundtracks?". Smooth Radio. July 27, 2020. Retrieved August 2, 2020.
  3. ^ Bever, Joseph (1858). The Christian songster : A collection of hymns and spiritual songs, usually sung at camp, prayer, and social meetings, and revivals of religion ; designed for all denominations. Dayton, Oh. : Printed at the Printing Establishment of the United Brethren in Christ.
  4. ^ Steel, David Warren; Hulan, Richard H. (2010), The Makers of the Sacred Harp, University of Illinois Press, p. 234, ISBN 9780252077609.
  5. ^ "The Libby Prison hymn". Brown University Library. Retrieved 2020-06-19.
  6. ^ Byrne, Frank (1958). "Libby Prison: A Study in Emotions". The Journal of Southern History. 24 (4): 430–444. doi:10.2307/2954671. JSTOR 2954671 – via JSTOR.
  7. ^ "The Top 100 Western Songs". American Cowboy. Western Writers of America. 2010. Archived from the original on 19 October 2010.
  8. ^ |url=
  9. ^ "Emmylou Harris - Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved June 24, 2013.
  10. ^ "RPM Country Tracks for August 23, 1980". RPM. Retrieved June 24, 2013.
  11. ^ "American III: Solitary Man". Rolling Stone. October 3, 2000.
  12. ^ Rosewell, Michael (2015). The Choral Journal Vol. 55 No.8. American Choral Directors Association. p. 70.
  13. ^ "White Stripes frontman Jack White will contribute five tracks to the "Cold Mountain" soundtrack, due Dec. 16 from DMZ/Columbia". Billboard. Retrieved 2 February 2021.
  14. ^ "1917 soundtrack: What is the 'Wayfaring Stranger' song in the war film?". ClassicFM. ClassicFM. January 29, 2020. Retrieved June 11, 2020.
  15. ^ "What is the 'Wayfaring Stranger' song in the woods?". Smooth Radio. Retrieved 2020-06-12.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]