What does living in constant sorrow mean?

“I am a man of constant sorrow” This line is from the song in the film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” John Hartford wrote the lyrics to the song. Some credit the music and the film with a rebirth of Blue Grass and Old Time music in the USA. It is hard to believe that one movie could have so much impact. I am inclined to think that this claim is somewhat exaggerated. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that the movie did spark a renewed interest in Blue Grass music particularly among people with whom it was not a familiar genre.

The most popular song from the movie was “A Man of Constant Sorrow.” This haunting song resonates with us somewhat like hearing a drum beat. Deep in our hearts we somehow identify with these lyrics. Nevertheless, I continue to wonder what it means to be in constant sorrow. What events or episodes in ones life could create constant sorry? What would anyone be like if they were in constant sorrow?

“For six long years, I’ve been in trouble
No pleasures here on earth I found
For in this world I’m bound to ramble
I have no friends to help me now.”

(From “I am a Man of Constant Sorrow”, John Hartford)

Did so many people really like this song because it resonated with their own sadness and melancholy? Can it be that many of us have: No friends, no pleasures, no home and no one to help? What could be sadder? Would this be enough to induce constant sorrow? Constant means never ceasing, not changing or varying, uniform, steadfast. Constant means to have a feeling with you 24 hours a day, everyday of the week and every week of the year. A Man of Constant Sorrow would be a sad person indeed.

Do we all sometimes feel this pain and sorrow from the daily toils and doubts of life? I think many of us do. There are too many depressed people in the world for it not to be true. Most of us get over it though, but what of the people who do not? What do you think it would be like to live in constant sorrow? Do you know anyone who you think might? What could you do to help this person? How can we all help make sure that no one in the entire world lives a life of constant sorrow? Is this an impossible dream?

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lori Silverman
    Jul 27, 2010 @ 14:11:01

    Hi John,

    Unfortunately, I think so. When I keynote today, I make the assumption that everyone is dealing with some sort of pain – and that my job is to remove them from it – even if it's just for an hour.

    I have story after story of people who have lost everything. People just like you and me. I'm not sure as a nation that we've come to grips with this new reality. Nor am I sure we understand how to aid the healing process.

    Why? Because people mask this sorrow. It's not all that acceptable to talk about. Who wants to hear about sadness?

    How would you suggest we overcome this challenge?

    Thanks for raising the issue,
    Lori Silverman



  2. John Persico
    Jul 28, 2010 @ 12:18:22

    HI Lori, good to hear from you. I think of Mother Teresa and her comment about her job was not to change the world but to have faith. Thus, I try to have faith each day that I can make a difference if I only try. So I try to bring some happiness, help some people, make a difference in someone's day and champion some cause or someone less fortunate. Each day I commit to this, have faith that I can make a difference and try not to worry about whether I have saved the world or not. This is my task and goal and what I am committed to today and tomorrow. THanks for raising the question, I loved working with PMI because there were so many great people like you to bring out the best in our company. John



  3. Joseph
    Jul 29, 2010 @ 14:32:00

    I think people forget the true value of sorrow and sadness. I am now in a great deal of sorrow; however, I do have a family and little home and a paying job, but I am no where near where I believe i should be. I believe my capabilities in this world reach ages beyond where I am at right now and it makes me sad. But if I felt no sorrow and was not sad in any way, I would then have no motivation to change anything.

    Sorrow and saddness are a gift. If you are a man of constant sorrow then you are also the most motivated man in the world.

    Just imagine. Give a man of constant sorrow and a man who is content the same opportunity. The man who is content would do little or nothing with the opportunity where the man in constant sorrow would take advantage of every aspect of that same opportunity and turn it into a dream.

    Conclusion, without constant sorrow, sadness and misery, there are no goals to change the world and make it better.



  4. Ivory Mcwhite
    Apr 01, 2021 @ 03:32:47

    That is a great tip particularly to those fresh to the blogosphere. Simple but very precise information… Many thanks for sharing this one. A must read article!



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