“The Letter that Never Came”
Day after day, a man asks the mail carrier if there is a letter for him. Day after day, he is disappointed. The chorus asks from whom the letter might come. But come it never does; the man dies, and asks that the letter, if it comes, be buried with him
Letter that Never Came, The Complete text(s) By Paul Dresser and Max Sturm (1886) *** A *** As printed in Douglas Gilbert on p. 142 of Lost Chords. Any letter here for me? was the question that he asked Of the mailman at the closing of the day. He turned sadly with a sigh, and a tear stood in his eye As he bowed his head and slowly walked away. Then he asked, "How can it be? Will it never come to me?" He had waited all those many years in vain. But from early morning light, he would wait till late at night, For the letter, but alas, it never came. Chorus: Was it from a grayhaired mother, A sister or a brother, Had he waited all those many years in vain? Yet from early morning light He would wait with spirits bright But the letter that he longed for never came. His poor soul it had gone out with the tide. In his hands they found a note with the last words he had wrote, "Should a letter come please place it by my side." *** B *** As recorded by Charlie Poole, Columbia 15179-D, 1927. The below is a comparison of my (RBW) transcription with Kinney Rorrer's. I used my punctuation as closer to the evident intent of the song. Places where my transcription differs from Rorrer's (Rambling Blues, p. 76) are marked * and listed at the end. "Is there any mail for me?" Was the question that he asked Of the postman at the closing of the day. But he turned away and sighed While a tear stood in his eye As he drooped his head and slowly walked away. Was it from a* gray-haired mother Or a sister or a brother? He waited all these many years in vain. Oh, from early morning light He would wait till dark at night For the letter but at last it never came. As he waited all these years, Joy mingled with his tears. His poor soul had faded* out with a* tide. In his hand he held a note, And those simple words he wrote, "If the letter comes just place it by my side." Variants: Cho.1 -- "a": so clearly the recording (all three times); Rorrer "his" 2.3 -- "faded": so Rorrer; I thought it might be "petered" 2.3 -- "a": Rorrer "the"
Gilbert observes that this song, unlike almost all popular music, preserves the mystery to the end: We never do learn from whom the letter might have come.
For the story of Paul Dresser, see the notes to "On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away." - RBW
- cf. "No Letter in the Mail" (theme)
- cf. "The Eight-Pound Bass" (tune and structure)
- Blue Ridge Mountain Singers, "The Letter that Never Came" (Columbia 15580-D, 1930)
- Pie Plant Pete [pseud. for Claude Moye], "The Letter That Never Came" (Supertone 9363, 1929)
- Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers, "The Letter That Never Came" (Columbia 15179-D, 1927; on CPoole01, CPoole05)
- Rorrer, p. 76, "The Letter That Never Came" (1 text)
- Gilbert, p. 142, "The Letter that Never Came" (1 text)
- ST Gil142 (Full)
- Roud #4860
- BI, Gil142