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(What's) The Life of a Man? / The Fall of the Leaf

[ Roud 848 ; Ballad Index K264 ; Bodleian Roud 848 ; Wiltshire 1008 , 1092 ; trad.]

Harry Holman sang The Life of a Man in a Mike Yates recording between 1972-1975 on the 1975 Topic album of countryside songs from Southern England, When Sheepshearing's Done.

Jumbo Brightwell sang The Life of a Man in 1975 on his Topic LP of traditional songs and ballads from Suffolk, Songs from the Eel's Foot.

Harry Upton sang The Life of a Man in 1978 on this Topic LP Why Can't It Always Be Saturday?.

Keith Kendrick sang The Life of a Man on his 1992 Fellside CD Home Ground.

Maddy Prior and Peter Knight sang What's the Life of a Man? in 2004 on Steeleye Span's CD They Called Her Babylon. Peter Knight commented in the sleeve notes:

I have always loved this song because the sentiments conveyed reflect my own feelings.

John Kirkpatrick sang What Is the Life of a Man on his 2011 CD God Speed the Plough. He commented in his liner notes:

The simplest ideas are always the best. It's hard to think of another song that puts us in our place so gently but so firmly—just another strand in the world of nature. Under the title The Fall of the Leaf this was well-known as a broadside ballad during the nineteenth century, and remains a popular and well-loved piece amongst traditional country singers to this day. The different versions don't vary that much from singer to singer, and why should they, when this is such a perfect match of words and music?

Bellowhead recorded What's the Life of a Man (Any More Than a Leaf)? in March 2012 for their album Broadside.

Andy Turner learned The Life of a Man from Harry Upton's album and sang it as the 14 April 2013 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

Chris Foster sang The Life of a Man, accompanied by the tune Greensleeves, in 2017 on his CD Hadelin. He noted:

Another song from Jumbo Brightwell's recycled Christmas card collection. He recorded if on his album Songs from the Eel's Foot (Topic Records 1975). The shift of gear at the end was inspired by New Orleans funeral bands. The Greensleeves tune was noted by Cecil Sharp from fiddler Henry Cave of Nettlebridge, Somerset, in 1907. It was passed on to me by Ray Campbell.

The Hungarian group Simply English sang What's the Life of a Man? on their 2017 CD Long Grey Beard and a Head That’s Bald.


Steeleye Span sing What Is the Life of a Man?

As I was a-walking one morning at ease
A-viewing the leaves as they fell from the trees
All in full motion appearing to be
Like those that had withered, they fell from the tree.

And if you'd a-seen those trees just a few days ago
How beautiful and green they all seemed to grow.
But a frost came upon them and withered them all,
And a storm came upon them and down they did fall.

What's the life of a man any more than a leaf?
A man has his seasons so why should we grieve?
Although in his world we appear fine and gay,
𝄆 Like a leaf 𝄇 we must wither and soon fade away.

If you look in the churchyard, it's there you will see
Those that have passed like a leaf from a tree.
When age and affliction upon them did call,
Like a leaf they did wither and down they did fall.


What's the life of a man?