Am I the only one who sees the first line of this song and thinks of “Man of Constant Sorrow” from O Brother, Where Are Thou? Really? It’s just me? Can’t be.
Anyway… this is another one I have never sung, and likely never would have chosen because it’s got a title “This Old World” and is stuck next to Children of the Earth, both of which lead one to think they’re more about the planet than the people. To be honest, I’d have stuck this one in the Love and Compassion section rather than the Humanity section, because it’s really about how we love one another. But that’s me.
But check this out – sung to the Southern Harmony tune Restoration – it’s got a fair bit of seriousness and melancholy but also comfort and love in its tune, and in its lyrics. Lyrics I’m pretty much a fan of and have preached on without knowing it.
This old world is full of sorrow, full of sickness, weak and sore;
if you love your neighbor truly, love will come to you the more.
We’re all children of one family; we’re all brothers, sisters, too;
if you cherish one another, love and friendship come to you.
This old world can be a garden, full of fragrance, full of grace;
if we love our neighbors truly, we must meet them face to face.
It is said now, “Love thy neighbor,” and we know well that is true;
this, the sum of human labor, true for me as well as you.
Yes, there’s a bit of binary language in there – “brothers, sisters, too” – but here’s a thing: the words at the bottom of the page that say “Words: American folk tune” are usually a good indication that (a) this has been sung with varying lyrics long before we captured it and (b) no one’s going to mind if you change that to something like “siblings, cousins, too” and (c) that kind of fluidity is expected in this kind of folk tune.
In fact, as I just learned at Folklorist.org, this is a song that has what are called “floating verses” – meaning the chorus (in this case, our first verse) stays the same, and then you float in other verses from other songs that fit the meter. In the examples Folklorist offers, we see verses of all kinds, including
Come, thou font of every blessing,
Move my heart to sing thy praise.
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
…which fits perfectly and can float in along with other verses in 18.104.22.168 meter. Which is really cool.
So…yeah. I like it a lot. A LOT.
And because I know it’s in your head, here’s Man of Constant Sorrow (song starts about 1:18):