Far Above Cayuga's Waters

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View of Cayuga Lake from Cornell University.

"Far Above Cayuga's Waters" is Cornell University's alma mater. The lyrics were composed c. 1870 by roommates Archibald Croswell Weeks, 1872, and Wilmot Moses Smith, 1874, and set to the tune of "Annie Lisle", a popular 1857 ballad by H. S. Thompson about a heroine dying of tuberculosis.


"Far Above Cayuga's Waters" as printed in Songs of Cornell in 1906

This song is one of the better known alma maters in the United States. It is the only alma mater song included in Ronald Herder's 500 Best-Loved Song Lyrics.[1] In a novel, Betty Smith called it "the saddest and oldest of all college songs".[2] Edward Abbey, in One Life at a Time, Please, mentions a campfire sing in which he contributed "the first line of the only Ivy League song that occurred to me: 'Far above Cayuga's waters . . .'".[3]

The tune has been appropriated since by dozens of universities, colleges, high schools, and camps worldwide. For example, Professor George Penny of the University of Kansas wrote his school's alma mater by changing a few words from Cornell's song ("Far above the golden valley..."). Other colleges and universities that have used the same tune include Michigan State College, University of Wisconsin–La Crosse, the College of William and Mary, the Colorado State University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Florida A&M University, Syracuse University, the University of Missouri, the University of Georgia, the University of Alabama, Indiana University, Wofford College, Ripon College, Birmingham-Southern College, Emory University, Erskine College, Lehigh University, Lewis & Clark College, Moravian College, Xavier University, Acadia University, Salem College, Swarthmore College, Vanderbilt University, Howard Payne University, St. John's Prep, the American University of Beirut, and even the fictional Plainfield Teacher's College. It is the tune of the camp song of Boy Scout Camp Tesomas near Rhinelander, Wisconsin and Camp Minsi in Pocono Summit, Pennsylvania.[4]

The song traditionally concludes campus performances by the Cornell University Chorus and Cornell University Glee Club. It is also heard between the second and third periods of men's ice hockey games, halftime or the end of the third quarter of football games, and half time of other Cornell athletic contests attended by the Cornell Big Red Pep Band. A rendition of the tune is also used to conclude all of the school's daily afternoon chime concerts (evening performances traditionally end with the "Evening Song"; the morning concert begins with the "Jennie McGraw Rag" but has no traditional finale).


The first two verses are the best known and are usually the only verses sung. The song, however, has six verses and no refrains. However, in common practice, only the first two verses are sung, and they share the lines "Lift the chorus, speed it onward, loud her praises tell; / Hail to thee our Alma Mater! Hail, all hail, Cornell!". Due to this symmetry, whenever only the first two verses are printed or sung, it is customary to consider lines 1–2 and 5–6 as being verses 1 and 2, respectively, and lines 3–4 and 7–8 as being a single repeated refrain:[5]

Far above Cayuga's waters,
With its waves of blue,
Stands our noble Alma Mater,
Glorious to view.
Lift the chorus, speed it onward,
Loud her praises tell;
Hail to thee, our Alma Mater!
Hail, all hail, Cornell!
Far above the busy humming
Of the bustling town,
Reared against the arch of heaven,
Looks she proudly down.


The oldest known recording of the song is the Cornell University Glee Club's recording made on January 2, 1914 at the Columbia Phonograph Company on 38th Street in New York City. The record was distributed later that year as a 10-inch 78 RPM recording. (The song "Cornell" was recorded on the other side.)[6]

The song has been recorded many times since by Cornell's various vocal and instrumental ensembles.


As with many school songs, this song has been parodied by Cornell students and non-students alike for decades. The lyrics for one common parody are as follows:[7]

High above Cayuga's waters
There's an awful smell.
Some say it's Cayuga's waters;
I say it's Cornell
Flush the toilets,
Flush the toilets,
Flush them all to hell!
Twenty-thousand SOBs
Call themselves Cornell.
Oh, the odor. Oh, the odor.
Oh, that awful smell
Before I'd go to Cornell;
I'd rather go to hell.
High above Cayuga's waters
Some poor bastard fell.
Finals make me think of gorges;
Jump for joy Cornell
Far above Cayuga's waters
Stand the gates of hell.
There five thousand sons of Belial
Call themselves Cornell.

See also


  1. Herder, Ronald (1998). 500 Best-Loved Song Lyrics. Courier Dover Publications. pp. 94&ndash, 95. ISBN 978-0-486-29725-5. Retrieved 18 March 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Smith, Betty (2000). Joy in the Morning. HarperCollins. pp. 177&178. ISBN 978-0-06-095686-8. Retrieved 18 March 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Abbey, Edward (1988). One Life at a Time, Please. Macmillan. p. 87. ISBN 978-0-8050-0603-2. Retrieved 18 March 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. http://www.campminsi.org/about/alma-mater
  5. "Cornell Songs". Cornell University Glee Club. Retrieved 6 April 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Cornell Daily Sun, Columbia Records by the Glee Club, Volume XXXIV, Issue 77, 5 January 1914, Page 1
  7. "Alternate Words to the Alma Mater". Retrieved 7 Oct 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links