Joan Baez released this song in 1960. She was the female countrepart of Bob Dylan when it came to the Folk protest movement. As the war in Vietnam raged on, many sought comfort in the sound of Folk music with people like Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and, of course, Joan Baez. She faced inmense racial discrimination due to her dark complexion. In the early 60's, whites made no differentiation between blacks and dark skinned individuals. This song, although, exemplifies the wained will to live by a mother who sings to her baby for one last time. Much of this can be speculation, but given the atmosphere during the 1960s, fillied with death and civil unrest, it exemplifies the feelings of that time period.
The river of Jordan has a symbolic meaning of spiritual salvation and rebirth. That along with the lyrics "All my trials, Lord soon be over" gives the listener a feeling that this mother has lost her will to live. She calls not only to the lord but also tells her bretheren, I'm assuming figuritively not literally, that it is "too late, but never mind" it will soon be over. The line "if living were a thing that money could buy" also exemplifies some of the issues during the early 60's as poor communities see their youth shipped out to war while rich individuals either buy their way out or concoct bogus health issues to avoid being drafted. This is a reoccuring theme in the 60's as Vietnam becomes a war endorsed by the rich and fought by the poor. The ending also gives a hint to the end of this mothers life as she mentions the Tree of Life and her ascension into the kingdom of heaven. Again, this is all speculation but one that fits the times and feelings of the Vietnam era.
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