Hard Times Come Again No More

The song, “Hard Times Come Again No More” by Stephen Foster, from 1854, still resonates. While how we conduct our daily lives today is different than during the industrial revolution, Gilded age and Civil War, maybe we are seeing the underlying ideals still remain. As we progress through this pandemic, some are quickly shifting from necessary patience for protecting one another by sheltering to a desire to simply let the disease run its course and let the chips (bodies) fall where they may. America, our Social Darwinism is showing. We may be revealing that the plan for individuals to survive this pandemic is to not get sick. And those that do, can’t afford access to a respirator, and cannot afford the time away from employment, may just have to suffer the consequences. This was America in the 1800s. Are we going to regress back to that or progress beyond it?

In his song, Stephan Foster begins with a call to all who have access to life’s pleasures to consider the plight of those without in the first verse and adds in the chorus that hard times can come for anyone, not just those who “deserve” it:

Verse 1:
Let us pause in life’s pleasures and count its many tears,
While we all sup sorrow with the poor;
There’s a song that will linger forever in our ears;
Oh, hard times, come again no more.

‘Tis a song, the sigh of the weary,
Hard times, hard times, come again no more.
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;
Oh! Hard times, come again no more.

Foster challenges us throughout the rest of the song to see, hear, and recognize those around us who’s lives are one of toil and struggle. He’s reminding us that those without are not ever far away, even if rendered silent.

While we seek mirth and beauty and music light and gay,
There are frail forms fainting at the door;
Though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say
Oh! Hard times, come again no more

There’s a pale drooping maiden who toils her life away,
With a worn heart whose better days are o’er;
Though her voice would be merry, ’tis sighing all the day.
Oh! Hard times, come again no more

‘Tis a sigh that is wafted across the troubled wave,
‘Tis a wail that is heard upon the shore
‘Tis a dirge that is murmured around the lowly grave
Oh! Hard times come again no more

Still today (even before the pandemic’s impact on our economy) more and more struggle to live comfortably despite low unemployment and (previously and presumably again) a surging stock market. Those gains however, are not felt by many that labor day to day fueling our economy. If we really wanted to make America great again, I don’t think a return to the Gilded Age is the correct aspiration–maybe instead we should aspire to a time of strong worker rights bolstering the middle class. Though this time, in a way that includes all races in that prosperity. Maybe we’d also work to structure our elections to inform and then facilitate participation of all so the “sigh” of all citizens was heard and they were represented in order to further a more perfect union of the people, governed. by the people, and for the people.

Here is my rendition of this song with a few of the lyrics updated.


2 thoughts on “Hard Times Come Again No More

  1. Thanks Tim for your thoughtful piece Here in the UK our health provision is somewhat better shared but privilege and money still matter. The shutdown hits the poorest and self-employed the hardest. Your theme of thinking of others, in fact of all, is central to a recent book on my greatest concern, climate change. Chris Goodall in his latest book, What we need do now, sets out a feasible plan for the UK to get to a zero carbon economy and lifestyle. A theme of that book is the need for communities to have more control and to work together. I think that is a good principle worldwide.
    Brian Tyler

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