I wrote "These Hands" while in the Army in 1955, stationed in El Paso, Texas. One night I drew guard duty, and during my shift, I looked at the wasteland that is West Texas and New Mexico, and a song from the second World War, "This Is Worth Fighting For," kept running through my mind. Looking at the barren country around me, my thoughts were, "Is this worth fighting for?" There is a line in that song to that effect, "Didn't I build that cabin, didn't I raise that corn?" and the idea that these tasks, along with any other, are done with a man's hands, prompted the song. I didn't plan for it to be a religious or even an inspirational song, but until Johnny Cash put it in its proper perspective, a working man's song, this is how most people took it.
Letter to Dorothy Horstman, Mar 9, 1973; reprinted in Sing Your Heart Out, Country Boy, New York, 1976, p. 324-325.
These hands ain't the hands of a gentleman,
These hands are calloused and old.
These hands raised a family; these hands raised a home.
Now these hands raise to pray the Lord.
These hands won the heart of my loved one,
And with hers they were never alone.
If these hands filled their task,
Then what more could one ask?
For these fingers have worked to the bone.
Now don't try to judge me by what you'd like to be,
For my life ain't been much success.
While some hands have power, but still they grieve
While these hands brought me happiness.
Now I'm tired and I'm old and I ain't got much gold;
Maybe things ain't been all that I planned.
God above, hear my plea, when it's time to judge me
Take a look at these hard-workin' hands.