Thursday, November 26, 2009
The Song of Harvest Home
Our American Thanksgiving coincides with the end of the traditional harvest time. Abraham Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation, which established the national holiday (thanks in part to the lobbying of Sarah Josepha Hale), made reference to the “blessings of fruitful fields.”
Harvest festivals of one kind or another have been celebrated in many nations and cultures. In England, the custom goes back several centuries, and was originally a secular holiday. The Reverend Robert Hawker was apparently the first to bring the celebration into church, on October 1, 1843. As these Harvest Festivals developed (especially popular in rural churches), hymns and prayers were written for them, and church buildings were decorated with home grown produce. This hymn which dates from those early years, by our old friend Henry Alford, was sung in many churches today (or at least this week).
Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in,
Ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide
For our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come,
Raise the song of harvest home.
All the world is God’s own field,
Fruit unto God's praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown
Unto joy or sorrow grown.
First the blade and then the ear,
Then the full corn shall appear;
God of harvest, grant that we
Wholesome grain and pure may be.
For the Living God shall come,
And shall take the harvest home;
From the field shall in that day
All offenses purge away,
Give the angels charge at last
In the fire the tares to cast;
But the fruitful ears to store
In God's garner evermore.
Even so, God, quickly come,
Bring thy final harvest home;
Gather thou thy people in,
Free from sorrow, free from sin,
There, forever purified,
In thy presence to abide;
Come, with all thine angels come,
Raise the glorious harvest home.
Henry Alford, 1844, 1865; alt.
Tune: ST. GEORGE'S WINDSOR (126.96.36.199.D.)
George J. Elvey, 1858
In the words of the Presbyterian Handbook to the Hymnal (1935), this hymn “sweeps broadly through the whole regime of God's grace manifest in present worldly blessings and eternal salvation.”
Alford's text was first matched with this grand tune in the first edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861), though the editors of that book changed the text in ways that he did not approve, leading him to revise it for a collected edition of his own works. Naturally, there have been other revisions over the years. Some modern hymnals omit the third verse.
The tune by George Elvey, named for St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle, where he was organist for nearly fifty years, was not written for this tune but they have stayed together in most hymnals for the last 150 years.
One Year Ago: All Good Gifts Around Us