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Green Fields

[ Roud 3385 ; Ballad Index San154 ; words John Newton; trad.]

Almeda Riddle from Heber Springs, Arkansas, sang the spiritual How Tedious and Tasteless the Hours in 1972 on her Rounder album Ballads and Hymns From the Ozarks.

The Watersons sang this with the title Green Fields in i977 on their album Sound, Sound Your Instruments of Joy. It was also included in the 1990 CD reissue of Frost and Fire and on the Topic CD sampler The Season Round. A.L. Lloyd commented in the original album’s sleeve notes:

The tune of this oldtimer derives from a cantata by Bach, so we’re told. In 1734 it was taken into a London stage show called The Tragedy of Tragedies or Tom Thumb, and a bit later it turned up attached to the words of a parlour ballad, Both Sexes Give Ear to My Fancy, in The Lady’s Evening Book of Pleasure. All this information is from Baring-Gould, who twice recorded the Both Sexes song from country workers in Devon. In fact, Bach or not, the grandfather of the melody is good old Rosin the Bow. The words are by John Newton (1725-1807), a former slave-ship skipper, converted “after an awful night steering a waterlogged ship in the face of death.” He ended up as a parson of St Mary Woolnoth in Lombard Street, London. By the way, Newton also wrote the words of Amazing Grace, another composition banished from our hymnbooks, that had to come back to us from the United States.


The Watersons sing Green Fields

How tedious and tasteless the hours
When Jesus no longer I see
Sweet prospects, sweet birds and sweet flowers
Have lost all their sweetness to me
The midsummer sunshines are dim
The fields strive in vain to look gay
But when I am happy in Him
December’s as pleasant as May

His name yields the sweetest perfume
And sweeter than music his voice
His presence disperses my gloom
And makes all within me rejoice
I should, were he always thus nigh
Nothing to wish nor to fear
No mortal as happy as I
My summer would last all the year

Content with beholding His face
My all to his pleasure resign
No changes of season or place
Would make any change in my mind
For blessed with a sense of his love
A palace a toy would appear
And prisons would palaces prove
If Jesus would dwell with me there

Dear Lord, if indeed I am thine
If thou art my sun and my song
Say why do I languish and pine
And why are my winters so long
Oh drive these dark clouds from my sky
Thy soul cheering presence restore
Or take me to Thee up on high
Where winter and clouds are no more


Transcribed from the singing of the Watersons by Garry Gillard.