I came to the place where the lone pilgrim lay
And patiently stood by his tomb
When in a low whisper I heard something say:
How sweetly I sleep here alone.
The tempest may howl and the loud thunder roar
And gathering storms may arise
But calm is my feeling, at rest is my soul
The tears are all wiped from my eyes.
The call of my master compelled me from home
No kindred or relative nigh
I met the contagion and sank to the tomb
My soul flew to mansions on high.
Go tell my companion and children most dear
To weep not for me now I'm gone
The same hand that led me through seas most severe
Has kindly assisted me home.
- Writer(s): B.F. White and Adger M. Pace
- Recording date: 1993
- Released: 1993
- Copyright: ©1993 Special Rider Music
Bob Dylan in America‘s chapter on “Lone Pilgrim” is the second of two devoted to the interlude in Dylan’s career in the early to mid-1990s, when he paused, refreshed his art by revisiting his roots, recorded Good As I Been to You and World Gone Wrong, and righted a career that at times seemed to spin out of control over the previous decade.
The chapter tells the basic history of The Sacred Harp, and how it grew out of the shape-note (or fasola) singing that began in New England before the American Revolution, and became especially popular in the uplands South before the Civil War. It starts with the curious story of William Walker and Benjamin Franklin White, whose musical enterprise and rivalry created two of the most successful hymnals in American history, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion and The Sacred Harp.
“The Lone Pilgrim” is one of numerous hymns that appeared in both collections, but is best known for the version in The Sacred Harp, the more popular of the two. It has a fascinating story, too, beginning with the visit of a travelling clergyman to the grave of one Joseph Thomas, a poet and popular itinerant preacher during the decades after the War of 1812, who, dressed in all-white raiment, preached a gospel of love and reconciliation throughout the eastern United States until his untimely death in 1835 in Johnsonburg, New Jersey. Because of his vestments, Thomas became known as the White Pilgrim; and when Brother John Ellis composed a poem of reflection after visiting Thomas’s tomb, he gave it that simple title. Only later, when put to music in roughly the form presented in The Sacred Harp, did the lyrics lose their direct connection to Thomas and become a hymn to any lone pilgrim who has gone to his reward.
Sung today at shape-note music gatherings throughout the South (and in places as far-flung as Waldoboro, Maine and Brooklyn, New York), “The Lone Pilgrim” sounds much as it did more than a century and a half ago, as sung from The Sacred Harp.
Dylan says he adapted his version from one he heard on an old Doc Watson album. But as he performs the song on World Gone Wrong, he approaches it very differently.
- Foto's: Benjamin Franklin White, Adger M. Pace and Doc Watson
- Music Selection: “The Lone Pilgrim,” recorded at the Decoration Day Singing, Liberty Baptist Church, Henegar, AL, June 6, 2010. Thanks to Nathan Rees.
- All information about The Lone Pilgrim from Sean Wilentz