“Twenty Years Ago (Forty Years Ago)”


"I wandered to the village, Tom, and sat beneath the tree... That sheltered you and me... But none were left to greet me, Tom... Who played with us upon the green Just (twenty/forty) years ago." The singer tells how the people have changed with the years

Supplemental text

Twenty Years Ago (Forty Years Ago)
  Partial text(s)

          *** A ***

Twenty Years Ago

From Hazel Felleman, ed., The Best Loved Poems of the American
People (1936), pp. 548-549. Presumably from some other printed

I've wander'd to the village, Tom, I've sat beneath the tree,
Upon the school-house play-ground, which shelter'd you and me;
But none were there to greet me, Tom, and few were left to know,
That play'd with us upon the green some twenty years ago.

Some are in the churchyard laid, some sleep beneath the sea,
But few are left of our old class, excepting you and me,
And when our time is come, Tom, and we are call'd to go,
I hope they'll lay us where we play'd, just twenty years ago.

(Stanzas 1, 9 of 9)


Randolph lists many possible authors for this piece: Dill Armor Smith and Frances Huston are credited with the words, and William Willing with the tune. No solid evidence seems to be forthcoming, though Hazel Felleman's _The Best Loved Poems of the American People_ also credits the song to Smith. Cohen notes that several people stepped forward to claim the song (on behalf of others) and explain the internal references.

The texts in Brown are clearly the same song, despite the difference in time period covered, and also the changes described in that time. Randoph's and Felleman's texts make little mention of technology; they're mostly about aging. The other texts are different. Several mention the first cooking stove, and how women wore (woolen/homespun) dresses and boys wore pants of tow.

Brown's "D" text concludes, "Oxen answered well for teams, but now they're rather slow. But people didn't live so fast some sixty years ago." I'd love to know the author's reaction, had he lived to see it, to a modern freeway.... - RBW

Cross references


  1. BrownIII 335, "Twenty (Forty, Sixty) Years Ago" (4 texts)
  2. Randolph 869, "Forty Years Ago" (1 text plus an excerpt, 1 tune)
  3. Randolph/Cohen, pp. 481-484, "Forty Years Ago" (1 text, 1 tune -- Randolph's 869A)
  4. Ives-DullCare, pp. 196-197,256, "Twenty Years Ago" (1 text, 1 tune)
  5. ST R869 (Partial)
  6. Roud #765
  7. BI, R869


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1879 (McGuffey's Fifth Reader)
Keywords: age home courting
Found in: US(SE,So) Canada(Mar)