DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE

DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE

I feel so bad in the morning
I feel so bad in the middle of the day
I feel so bad in the evening
that’s why I’m going to the river, to wash my sins away

I’m gonna lay down my heavy load, down by the riverside,
Down by the riverside, down by the riverside
I’m gonna lay down my heavy load, down by the riverside,
I’m gonna study war no more

I ain’t a gonna study war no more…….

Well, I’m gonna put on my long white robe,
(Where?) down by the riverside (Oh)
Down by the riverside, down by the riverside
I’m gonna put on my long white robe,
(Where?) down by the riverside
I’m gonna study war no more

I ain’t a gonna study war no more….

Well, I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield,
(Where?) down by the riverside
Down by the riverside, down by the riverside
I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield,
(A-ha) down by the riverside
I’m gonna study war no more

I ain’t a gonna study war no more…

Down by the Riverside is another Negro spiritual song which dates back to before the American Civil War.
It is centred on the idea of abandoning pessimism and aggression, and putting on new spiritual clothing, at the side of a river before crossing it. The river can represent baptism, which in the Southern Baptist Church usually involves wearing a white robe and being submerged in water. It may also refer to the river Jordan, which was the final passage for the Hebrews before they got into the Promised Land.

Here too, as in many other spirituals, the words may also be alluding to eventual escape from slavery, with the river representing the Ohio River, which was the dividing line between slavery in the slave states and freedom in the non-slave ones.

The refrain of “ain’t gonna study war no more” is a reference to some words found in the Old Testament. To study can mean that our mind dwells on something, so to “ study war” may suggest that the concept  has become tolerable. Therefore, if we don’t study it, we state its unacceptability and our refusal to take part.

This great old spiritual and its pacifistic imagery can take on a new meaning every time there is a conflict in the world, that’s why it has often been used as an anti-war protest song (especially during the Vietnam War).

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