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Tuesday, November 1, 2011


(Lorena, cover of the sheet music)

Music can have such power that the soldiers on the opposing sides of a conflict will even choose the same anthem, a lyrical song of sentiment that reminds them of the sweetheart and the hearth and home they have left behind.

During the American civil war, for example, that anthem was
Lorena, a poem by Henry Webster put to music by his friend Joseph Webster. The song was published in Chicago in 1858, before the hostilities began in 1861. By the end of the first year of the war, it was a great favorite of the soldiers on both sides, the Blue and the Gray, in the North and in the South, in all parts of the land.

The mournful ballad puts to words the emotions of the composer after the breakup of his engagement to Miss Ella Blocksom, renamed Lorena here — the melody needed a three-syllable name.

My favorite version is the performance by John Hartford (1937-2001).


Oh, the years creep slowly by, Lorena,
The snow is on the ground again.
The sun’s low down the sky, Lorena,
The frost gleams where the flow’rs have been.
But the heart beats on as warmly now,
As when the summer days were nigh.
Oh, the sun can never dip so low
To be down affection’s cloudless sky.

A hundred months have passed, Lorena,
Since last I held that hand in mine,
And felt the pulse beat fast, Lorena,
Though mine beat faster far than thine.
A hundred months, ’twas flowery May,
When up that hilly slope we climbed,
To watch the dying of the day,
And hear the distant church bells chime.

We loved each other then, Lorena,
Far more than we ever dared to tell;
And what we might have been, Lorena,
Had our lovings prospered well —
But then, ’tis past, the years are gone,
I’ll not call up their shadowy forms;
I’ll say to them, “Lost years, sleep on!
Sleep on! nor heed life’s pelting storms.”

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