Spider John: Amateur Astronomer
Dreaming of the Hillbilly Blues

Well May the World Go

Peteseeger


Of course, maybe it's me ... I can't help but hear Pete Seeger's “Well May the World Go (When I’m Far Away)” as at least two songs in one. Is the narrator of “Well May the World Go” about to die? Or is he an astronaut? After all, Seeger based the song on an old Scottish tune (maybe a sea chantey) called "Weel May the Keel Row," which bids a bon voyage. Was Seeger thinking of death or space travel when he decided “The World” would somehow stay behind?

To my ears, “Well May the World Go” is a fine anthem for NASA’s manned space program. The song’s aims are like those of the program I thought I knew as a youngster – to reintroduce us to our own planet as a beautiful place, to collapse vast distances, to wish the world well. NASA still seems to want to be seen this way, and many of its employees are kids like me who never fully grew up. “Well May the World Go” still lurks somewhere in the gaps of NASA’s bureaucracy.

So why not really adopt the song as an official anthem? The trouble, from NASA’s point of view, would not just be that Pete Seeger has always been a proud resident of the blacklist and a sworn enemy of American missiles. The still bigger problem would be that the song is too apt. The manned space program has come to be haunted by Death, always there on the buffalo side of the coin. Many of us already think the risk to human lives and the measly return on investment make the manned space program a dinosaur.

The song could also be seen as reflecting the fact that the policy has turned its back on the world and its needs "when its far away." Instead of needing a new song, the Bush administration, to make the obvious quip, should consider naming its outlandish Mars program “No Planet Left Behind.”

Chorus
Well may the world go
The world go, the world go
Well may the world go
When I'm far away

Well may the skiers turn
The swimmers churn, the lovers burn
Peace may the generals learn
When I'm far away

(Chorus)

Sweet may the fiddle sound
The banjo play, the old hoe down
Dancers swing round and round
When I'm far away

(Chorus)

Fresh may the breezes blow
Clear may the streams flow
Blue above, green below
When I'm far away

(Chorus)

— Words by Pete Seeger/Stormking Music, Inc.