We plough the fields and scatter
In the final week of our series, we will think about hymns which mark particular seasons of the year, which can often summon up a whole raft of emotions and associations with just a few notes.
The first is associated with Harvest Festival, which in its current form as a church celebration, only dates back to 1843, when Revd Robert Hawker invited parishioners to come to his church in Morwenstow, Cornwall, for a special service to mark the end of the harvest. People had always celebrated the harvest in secular ways, often quite riotously, but it had not been celebrated in church. Harvest Festival soon became popular, even though it still has no official liturgical standing or set date.
“We plough the fields” , despite feeling so thoroughly English, is actually a translation of a German hymn, “Wir pflugen un wir streun/ Den Samen auf das Land” and was written by Mattias Claudius (1740-1815), the son of Lutheran pastor in Reinfeld, near Lübeck. He wrote the hymn as part of a play in 1783 about a harvest thanksgiving. It originally had 17 four line verses, but (thankfully!) was soon shortened. It was translated into English in 1861 by Jane Montgomery Campbell (1817-78), who translated many German hymns. She lived in Bovey Tracey in Devon, and died in a carriage accident while driving across Dartmoor.
The tune is by J. A.P Schultz, and is also German, first appearing with the German original version of the hymn in 1800. Schultz was Kapellmeister to Prince Henry of Prussia.
We plough the fields, and scatter
the good seed on the land;
But it is fed and watered by God's almighty hand:
He sends the snow in winter,
the warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine,
and soft refreshing rain.
Chorus: All good gifts around us
Are sent from heaven above,
Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord
For all His love.
He only is the maker of all things near and far;
He paints the wayside flower,
He lights the evening star;
The winds and waves obey Him,
by Him the birds are fed;
Much more to us, His children,
He gives our daily bread.
We thank Thee, then, O Father,
for all things bright and good,
The seed time and the harvest,
our life, our health, and food;
Accept the gifts we offer,
for all Thy love imparts,
But what Thou most desirest,
our humble, thankful hearts.
- Is Harvest Festival outdated now that most people have little contact with the land?