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“When I Can Read My Title Clear”

The storm raged outside, screaming and hammering at walls and window, but they were safely sheltered, and huddled in the warmth of the hey fire they went on singing… — The Long Winter, Chapter 28, “Four Days’ Blizzard”

     
Words to “When I Can Read My Title Clear” are by Isaac Watts, first published in his Hymns and Spiritual Songs, 1707. The tune is “Pisgah,” an old folk tune of unknown origin, first printed in 1813. The style is of old New England tunes with staggered entrances, the voices (bass, tenor, treble, and alto) coming in separately and tossing the melody back and forth. The tune was typical of many singing school songs and reminiscent of how Laura Ingalls Wilder often described the Ingalls family singing to Pa’s fiddle accompaniment, each member with their own voice contributing to the melody. “When I Can Read My Title Clear” was found in many period hymnals.

Isaac Watts (1674-1748) was born and died in England. He was recognized early for his talent at composing verse, and was offered a university education in hopes he would be ordained in the Church of England. Watts declined the offers and entered a nonconformist academy and joined an independent congregation. Most of his hymns were written in his early twenties while living at home, published in his Hymns and Spiritual Songs. Watts began preaching in 1702 and was ordained as a pastor, although his health began to decline shortly afterward.

Laura Ingalls Wilder included “When I Can Read My Title Clear” in the same context in the manuscript and published The Long Winter. In the manuscript, the lyrics are followed with: “The others joined her and the old hymn rose triumphantly.” This is one of the few songs in the Little House books which are initiated by Caroline Ingalls. While the song expresses the sentiment of survival in the face of the relentless blizzards during the Hard Winter, it also suggests the Ingallses’ struggle to find peace at the end of the homesteading process in Dakota Territory.

WHEN I CAN READ MY TITLE CLEAR

1. When I can read my title clear, to mansions in the skies,
I bid farewell to every fear, and wipe my weeping eyes.
And wipe my weeping eyes, and wipe my weeping eyes.
I bid farewell to every fear, and wipe my weeping eyes.

2. Should earth against my soul engage, and hellish darts be hurled,
Then I can smile at Satan’s rage, and face a frowning world.
And face a frowning world, and face a frowning world,
Then I can smile at Satan’s rage, and face a frowning world.

3. Let cares, like a wild deluge come, and storms of sorrow fall!
May I but safely reach my home, my God, my heaven, my All.
My God, my heaven, my All, my God, my heaven, my All.
May I but safely reach my home, my God, my heaven, my All.

4. There shall I bathe my weary soul in seas of heavenly rest,
And not a wave of trouble roll, across my peaceful breast.
Across my peaceful breast, across my peaceful breast,
And not a wave of trouble roll, across my peaceful breast.

WHEN I CAN READ MY TITLE CLEAR
(from The Long Winter)

When I can read my title clear
To mansions in the skies,
I’ll bid farewell to every fear
And wipe my weeping eyes

CLICK HERE to listen.

   

               

Click on the above images to view a copy of Hard Winter era sheet music of “When I Can Read My Title Clear.”    

     

“When I Can Read My Title Clear” (TLW 28)
     “When I can read my title clear, to mansions in the sky”