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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 Roud 848 ; trad.]

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

Jumbo Brightwell sang The Life of a Man in 1975 on this Topic LP Songs from the Eel's Foot: Traditional Songs and Ballads from Suffolk.

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 April 14, 2013 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

Lyrics

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.

Chorus:
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.

Chorus

What's the life of a man?