The ballad of John Henry’s wife

The first time I saw John Henry
I’d heard about his strength and his size
But the thing that struck me like a spike through the heart
Was the fire and the kindness in his eyes
Yes, the fire and the sadness in his eyes.

His mama pulled me aside to say
“I’ve seen the look in his eye.
You should know he doesn’t know the hour or the day
But he knows the way that he will die
That hammer will cause him to die.”

John Henry wrapped her in his arms
Said “I’d love to take you as my wife,
But how can I ask when this work I’m called to do
I know it will one day take my life;
This hammer will cause me to die.”

I looked at his face, I reached for his hands
Calloused, and weathered, and rough.
“I’d rather have one year with this good hearted man
Than a lifetime in a palace, sure enough
Just being your wife would be enough.”

All over town we had seen the signs
About the prizes a man could earn
If he could sink that steel deeper than
the new machine
We could go in style with money to burn
We could live a while without a concern

The last time I saw John Henry,
He was leaving with his hammer in his hand.
He had kissed me & the baby with a grin on his face
Said “I’ll come back to you a rich man.”
But he died with his hammer in his hand.

© 2016 Debbie Durant, Walnut Run Music, ASCAP