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A Pilgrim’s Way

[words Rudyard Kipling, music Peter Bellamy; notes on A Pilgrim’s Way at the Kipling Society]

A Pilgrim’s Way is a poem from Rudyard Kipling’s book The Years Between (Methuen, 1919). Peter Bellamy sang it in 1982 on his fourth album of songs set to Kipling’s poems, Keep on Kipling. He accompanied himself on concertina, and Chris Birch played violin and viola. He sang it again in 1983 at Valley Folk. This recording was included on his anthology Wake the Vaulted Echoes.

Finest Kind sang A Pilgrim’s Way on their 1996 album Lost in a Song. They noted:

Of all the Rudyard Kipling poems that Peter Bellamy so masterfully put to music, this is Ian [Robb]’s favourite. It shows the empathy for common people which shines through much of Kipling’s work, despite the jingoism and lack of political correctness that may prevent many people from enjoying his poems today. The tune is, as they say, a belter: classic Bellamy, and wonderfully singable. Learned from Peter after a memorable concert, “too many years ago” at the Cuckoo’s Nest folk club in London, Ontario, and recorded by him on Keep on Kipling.

Cockersdale sang A Pilgrim’s Way in 1997 on their Fellside CD Wide Open Skies, together with Kipling’s Tree Song.

John Roberts and Tony Barrand sang A Pilgrim’s Way on their 2003 CD Twiddlum, Twaddlum. They noted:

Once again, the poem is by Rudyard Kipling (1890) and the tune setting by Peter Bellamy. We learned this to sing at the memorial gathering held for our Mummer and Morris dancer friend, Steve Adams, who had just begun a new job in the Windows on the World restaurant on 11 September 2001. Kipling precisely captured Steve’s infectious egalitarian spirit with the refrain line, “The people, Lord, Thy people, are good enough for me!”

Pilgrims’ Way—Lucy Wright, Tom Kitching and Edwin Beasant—sang A Pilgrim’s Way in 2010 as title track of their eponymous debut EP, Pilgrims’ Way, and in 2011 on their Fellside CD Wayside Courtesies. They noted:

From the pen of Rudyard Kipling and set to music by Peter Bellamy, this great humanist anthem means a lot to us, and gave us both our band name and album title. “The people, o the people are good enough to me!” —’nuff said.

This video shows Pilgrims’ Way at Cholton Cooperative in Manchester on 13 May 2012 and at Folk on Monday at the Green Note in London on 6 May 2012:

Jon Boden sang A Pilgrim’s Way as the 22 February 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. Note that The Pilgrim’s Way on his CD Songs From the Floodplain is quite another song, written by Jon.

Damien Barber and Mike Wilson sang A Pilgrim’s Way in 2011 on their CD The Old Songs, commenting in their liner notes:

Rudyard Kipling’s words, or in this case an edited extract of Kipling’s words, with a monumental tune from Peter Bellamy. The result is a positively uplifting song.


A Pilgrim’s Way

I do not look for holy saints to guide me on my way,
Or male and female devilkins to lead my feet astray.
If these are added, I rejoice—if not, I shall not mind,
So long as I have leave and choice to meet my fellow-kind.
    And as we come and as we go (and deadly-soon go we!)
    The people, Lord, Thy people, are good enough for me!

Thus I will honour pious men whose virtue shines so bright
(Though none are more amazed than I when I by chance do right),
And I will pity foolish men for woe their sins have bred
(Though ninety-nine per cent of mine I brought on my own head).
    And, Amorite or Eremite, or General Averagee,
    The people, Lord, Thy people, are good enough for me!

And when they bore me overmuch, I will not shake mine ears,
Recalling many thousand such whom I have bored to tears.
And when they labour to impress, I will not doubt nor scoff;
Since I myself have done no less and—sometimes pulled it off.
    Yes, as we are and we are not, and we pretend to be,
    The people, Lord, Thy people, are good enough for me!

And when they work me random wrong, as often-times hath been,
I will not cherish hate too long (my hands are none too clean).
And when they do me random good I will not feign surprise.
No more than those whom I have cheered with wayside courtesies.
    But, as we give and as we take—whate’er our takings be—
    The people, Lord, Thy people, are good enough for me!

But when I meet with frantic folk who sinfully declare
There is no pardon for their sin, the same I will not spare
Till I have proved that Heaven and Hell which in our hearts we have
Show nothing irredeemable on either side the grave.
    For as we live and as we die—if utter Death there be—
    The people, Lord, Thy people, are good enough for me!

Deliver me from every pride—the Middle, High, and Low—
That bars me from a brother’s side, whatever pride he show.
And purge from me all heresies of thought and speech and pen
That bid me judge him otherwise than I am judged. Amen!
    That I may sing of Crowd or King or road-borne company,
    That I may labour in my day, vocation and degree,
    To prove the same in deed and name, and hold unshakenly
    (Where’er I go, whate’er I know, whoe’er my neighbour be)
    This single faith in Life and Death and to Eternity:
    “The people, Lord, Thy people, are good enough for me!”