Many of the Christmas carols we sing today have been around for several hundred years. I assumed this was the case with “I Wonder as I Wander” until I did a bit of research on it. This haunting melody was first heard by composer John Jacob Niles in 1933 when he visited the Appalachian town of Murphy, North Carolina.
Accounts differ, but the Morgan family was a poor, homeless family trying to collect enough money to buy enough gas to drive out of town. Various people had gathered to help them collect the money, John Niles among them. The Morgan’s young, unkempt daughter sang a few lines of this Appalachian folk song, and Niles paid her a quarter each time she sang it in order to try to capture the lyrics. He was only able to glean fragments, but later rounded out the first verse and added verses two and three.
I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die.
For people, just people like you and like I,
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.
When Mary bore Jesus, ’twas in a cow’s stall,
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all.
But high from God’s heaven a star’s light did fall.
And the promise of the ages it then did recall.
If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing
A star in the sky or a bird on the wing,
Or all of God’s angels in heav’n for to sing,
He surely could have had it, for He was the King.
* Amy Schumaker @ Suite 101
* Sermon highlighting the song on Lifeway
* Midi music file and PDF sheet music file
* Maureen Hegarty singing with cool pictures on YouTube