Hard Times Come Again No More

(1854)
The text of "Hard Times Come Again No More" proved tragically prophetic for Foster, as it was reported that he sang this song quite often in his last days. Indeed, the composer died on January 13, 1864, at the age of 37, with only 38 cents to his name.

Acclaimed during his lifetime as one of America's best songwriters, Stephen Foster wrote nearly 300 songs in a variety of styles. His early works, such as his first song, "Open Thy Lattice, Love" (1844), were modeled after the concert songs of English composers such as Henry Bishop and Charles E. Horn. Foster's first truly successful songs, however, were his minstrel songs (such as "De Camptown Races" and "Oh! Susanna"). These were often characterized by their brisk tempos, diatonic melodies, heavy use of dialect, and the inclusion of a three- or four-part chorus. Later, Foster focused on writing songs laced with nostalgia--feelings of lost youth, home, family, and friends.

"Hard Times Come Again No More" (published 1854) is a merger of Foster’s compositional styles. Melodically, it belongs to the category of minstrel songs; a four-part chorus is included. However, there is no dialect, no mention of slavery or other minstrel themes, and the song is described on the cover simply as one of "Foster's Melodies." In fact, the most "ethnic" feature of "Hard Times Come Again No More" is its basis in a melody that Foster heard as a child in an African-American church in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania.

--Library of Congress

Hard Times Come Again No More
by Stephen Foster

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.

'Tis the song, the sigh of the weary;
Hard Times, Hard Times, come again no more:
Many days have lingered around my cab in door;
Oh! Hard Times, come again no more.

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 the song, the sigh of the weary;
Hard Times, Hard Times, come again no more:
Many days have lingered around my cab in door;
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 the song, the sigh of the weary;
Hard Times, Hard Times, come again no more:
Many days have lingered around my cab in door;
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.

'Tis the song, the sigh of the weary;
Hard Times, Hard Times, come again no more:
Many days have lingered around my cab in door;
Oh! Hard Times, come again no more.

Photo: Rich and poor. Redding, sc.; drawn by Sol Eytinge, Jun., 1873. Prints and Photographs Reading Room, Library of Congress.

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