Hymn #500: We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder

This anonymous text was based on Genesis 28:10-17, which tells of Jacob’s dream at Bethel.  However, the biblical story is only the starting point for the text, which becomes one of persevering in faith, rung by rung and stanza by stanza.

 In Black Song: The Forge and the Flame, John Lovell Jr. explains the significance of climbing to the slave-poet, who “felt that he had been kept down for too long.”  Lovell suggests that Jacob’s story is only a metaphor for the slave-poet’s desire to “rise from his [or her] low estate and to progress up the material and spiritual ladder.”

This music is beautifully suited for these words, as the rhythmic pattern suggests climbing a rung on a ladder and then pausing for breath before taking the next step.  The anonymous tune is called JACOB’S LADDER after the text’s subject matter.

Many African American melodies contain a refrain and stanzas meant to be sung by a lead singer or various lead singers, but this one is different because it has no refrain.  In addition, whereas most spiritual tunes have irregular meter, this one has a standard meter, 8.8.8.5.