Song of the Week: Hard Times Come Again No More” by Stephen Foster
How many songs written today will still be popular in 2170? When the great American songwriter Stephen Foster (1826–1864) wrote “Hard Times Come Again No More” in 1854, he probably wasn’t thinking ahead to 2012. Yet, 158 years later, “Hard Times” seems more popular today than ever. Or maybe Foster did know he’d composed something with incredible durability—one of the song’s lines, referring to the lamentations of the poor, is “There’s a song that will linger forever in our ears.” The melody is simple and memorable, the lyrics plain yet eloquent. The poor you have always with you, and few have captured the spirit-crushing desolation of poverty as well as Foster does in “Hard Times.” Bob Dylan, Mary J. Blige, James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, Mary Black (along with other notable Irish singers), Nanci Griffith, and others have all recorded it. My current favorite version is by Mavis Staples.
Terence Winch’s most recent book is a collection of poems called Falling Out of Bed in a Room with No Floor (Hanging Loose, 2011). His work appears in the Oxford Book of American Poetry, Poetry 180, four Best American Poetry collections, and other anthologies, and in many journals, including the Paris Review, Conduit, Smartish Pace, and New American Writing. He has received an American Book Award, an NEA poetry grant, a Gertrude Stein Award for Innovative Writing, and other honors. Also a traditional musician and songwriter, he released a CD anthology in 2007 of some of his compositions called When New York Was Irish: Songs & Tunes by Terence Winch.
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