Twenty Years Ago: About the Song

This sentimental ballad composed by William Willing was a favorite of Abraham Lincoln.


I’ve wandered to the village, Tom
I’ve sat beneath the tree
Upon the schoolhouse playing ground
Which sheltered you and me
But none were there to greet me, Tom
And few were left to know
That played with us upon the grass
Some twenty years ago

The grass is just as green, dear Tom
Barefooted boys at play
Were sporting just as we did then
With spirits just as gay
But the Master sleeps upon the hill
Which coated, o’er with snow
Afforded us a sliding place
Just twenty years ago

The river’s running just as still
The willows on its side
Are larger than they were, dear Tom
The stream appears less wide
The grapevine swing is ruined now
Where once we played the beau
And swung our sweethearts “pretty girls”
Just twenty years ago

The spring that bubbled ‘neath the hill
Close by the spreading beech
Is very low; ’twas once so high
That we could almost reach
And kneeling down to get a drink
Dear Tom, I started so
To see how much that I was changed
Since twenty years ago

Near by the spring, upon an elm
You know I cut your name
Your sweetheart’s just beneath it, Tom
And you did mine the same
Some heartless wretch had peeled the bark
‘Twas dying sure but slow
Just as that one, whose name was cut
Died twenty years ago

My lids have long been dry, dear Tom
But tears came in my eyes
I thought of her I loved so well
Those early-broken ties
I visited the old churchyard
And took some flowers to strew
Upon the graves of those we loved
Some twenty years ago

Some now 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 shall come, dear Tom
And we are called to go
I hope they’ll lay us where we played
Just twenty years ago