Walk Slowly (1938)
Level: High School
The words of songs provide the foundation used by songwriters when they add music to words. The text used by composer Graham Morgan in an anthology of poems published by Doubleday Press, Best Loved Poems of the American People in 1936. Before listening to the song, read its text, reprinted below, aloud to a partner.
If you should go before me, dear, walk slowly Down the ways of death, well-worn and wide, For I would want to overtake you quickly And seek the journey’s ending by your side. I would be so forlorn not to descry you Down some shining highroad when I came; Walk slowly, dear, and often look behind you And pause to hear if someone calls your name.
With your partner, perform the following songwriting exercise:
- For each line of poetry, underline the word or words which stand out, and convey the most meaning.
- Using a 4/4 time signature, sketch out what you imagine the rhythm of the text could be, making special notice of the words you have identified.
- After you complete this task, listen to the song. How does the composer use rhythm to emphasize certain words in the text? How is the fundamental sadness and melancholy of the song conveyed to the listener?
An example of this analysis is provided below, using line one of the poem. There is no absolutely correct answer – the purpose of this exercise is to allow you explore the same questions as Graham Morgan when he set this poem to music:
If you should go before me, dear, walk slowly
The above is a sample only – certainly, it is not the only way you could interpret the rhythm of this poetry. Experiment with your partner!