Life of a Leaf

Also known as “Life of a Man”, or “What’s The Life of a Man?”  I first heard this in 1978, sung on the X Seamen’s Institute’s album Heart of Oak (Bernie Clay and the boys) and it has been one of those songs that when I sing it, most people I know tell me they’ve never heard it before.  It dates to the latter 19th century and I am aware of it being collected was by Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1904 from a J. Wright, Coombe Bisset, Wiltshire, UK.  As much as the “plastic Paddies” out there would like to continue claiming that the song dates back to 18th century Ireland or earlier, there is no proof of this; rather, the style of verse and melody is far more in line with 19th century English composition. I have been informed lately that it was a broadside ballad originally entitled “The Fall Of The Leaf”, emanating from the south of England in the late 19th century.  Whatever the case it is a beautiful song and should be shared by all.

Jos. Morneault

Life of a Leaf


As I was a-walking one morning at ease
A-viewing the leaves as they clung to the trees
All in full motion appearing to me
And those that had withered, they fell from the trees.

What’s the life of a man, any more than a leaf?
A man has his seasons, so why should we grieve
Although in this world we appear bright and gay
Like a leaf we must wither, and soon fade away.

If you had seen the leaves just a few days ago
How bright and how beautiful they all seemed to grow
A frost came upon them and withered them all
The rains gently fell, and down they did fall.


If you walk in a churchyard, it’s there you will see
Those that had withered like the leaves upon the trees
Old age and affliction upon them did call
And then like the leaves, well down they did fall.



The above segment is from Joseph's Tavern Sing recording... Click on the image to be taken to Ebay to purchase the whole CD.

The above segment is from Joseph’s Tavern Sing recording… Click on the image to be taken to Ebay to purchase the whole CD.

5 thoughts on “Life of a Leaf

  1. Andrew

    John Kirkpatrick does a nice version on Speed The Plough. Good to play to mark the passing of a friend, especially someone in the folkie community,

    1. JosMorn Post author

      I’ve heard it and you’re right. We also sing Godspeed the plow – Not typically one of our go-to memorial songs but rather we sing it when we’re focusing on agricultural themed performances. Still, it lends itself well. The Parting Glass and Fiddler’s Green are the most often requested. When I am hired solo to perform at gravesite or in church, my personal go-to is Kate Rusby’s “Sleepless Sailor”, first brought to my attention when hired by a young adult daughter for me to sing at her father’s graveside service.

  2. Joan

    The song is wonderful … and,the funny thing just now, I just got off the phone with my best friend “Frank Woerner” of the X-Seamen’s Institute. I just called him back to tell him of this article.
    How delightful.

    Fair Winds, Joan

    1. JosMorn Post author

      Thank you, Joan. I am glad that it has been useful! I’ll see about attaching a sound sample from my recording to help illustrate this wonderful song.


    2. JosMorn Post author

      Hello Joan! I amended the page to include a segment from my recording and a link to that self-same CD.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *