by John Jacob Niles (1892 - 1980)

I wonder as I wander
Language: English 
Available translation(s): FRE FRE
I wonder as I wander out under the sky
how Jesus [the]1 Saviour did come for to die
for poor [ordn'ry]2 people like you and like I
I wonder as I wander out under the sky

when Mary birthed Jesus 'twas in a cow stall
with wise men and [farmers and shepherds]3 and all
[but high from the Heavens a star's light did fall
[and a]4 promise of ages it then did recall]5

If Jesus had wanted [for]6 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 it 'cause]7 he was the King!

View original text (without footnotes)
This text is often described as an Appalachian carol transcribed by Niles, but he did more than transcribe it according to The Songs of John Jacob Niles: New Edition Containing Eight Additional Songs, with a Preface by John Jacob Niles, New York: G. Schirmer, Inc., 1993. From Niles's preface, dated 1975: "Suffice it to say that I wrote it in 1933, based on a fragment I overheard in the courthouse square in Murphy, N.C." (Thanks to Rufus Browning for the information). See also I Wonder as I Wander: The Life of John Jacob Niles by Ron Pen, University Press of Kentucky, 2010, pages 154-155, for a description of the development of the text.

1 Berio, Britten: "our"
2 Britten: "or’n’ry"; Rutter: "ornery"
3 Britten: "shepherds and farmers"
4 Berio: "the"
5 Britten: "On high from God’s heaven the star’s light did fall, / And the promise of the ages it did then recall." ; omitted by Rutter
6 Berio: "of"
7 Berio: "could have had it 'cause"; Britten: "could've had it for"


Musical settings (art songs, Lieder, mélodies, (etc.), choral pieces, and other vocal works set to this text), listed by composer (not necessarily exhaustive)

Available translations, adaptations, and transliterations (if applicable):

  • FRE French (Français) (Guy Laffaille) , title 1: "Je m'émerveille en marchant", copyright © 2009, (re)printed on this website with kind permission
  • FRE French (Français) (Guy Laffaille) , title 1: "Je m'interroge en me promenant", copyright © 2015, (re)printed on this website with kind permission

Researcher for this text: Jeroen Scholten