True story of an escaped slave who regretting leaving his wife and decided to go back to get her. The second song in the Underground Railroad Trilogy (see below for more notes).
For twenty years my sweat has been another man’s to hire
To go and shake the lion’s paw, it was my deep desire
But on the day my chance arose, my poor wife was confined
Without a word, without embrace, I left my love behind.
But had I known as now I do, I’d ne’er have thought to part
It’s not Toronto’s icy wind that chills my lonesome heart
No auction block or prison cell or cut of lash or knife
Could grieve me more than to be free without my loving wife.
The passing years will ne’er erase my sad regret and shame
So I must go to seek again the place I dread to name
To see her lips a moment more, I’d gladly meet my grave
I’ll find the means to bring her here, or be again a slave.
The letter above is excerpted from the 1878 book “The Underground Railroad” by William Still; the book can be viewed online here; Isaac Forman’s story starts on page 64. We don’t know what ultimately happened to Isaac or his wife. I have two other songs based on stories from the Underground Railroad: The Lily of the South and Lear Green’s Hope Chest.
The melody I use, Scarborough Settler’s Lament, was written in the 1860’s by a Scottish immigrant who also regretted the move to Toronto.
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