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.
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


Leland Bryant Ross said...

I notice that in my latest acquisition, the Reformed Church in America's 1985 Rejoice in the Lord, there is a version that it describes as "Based on hymns by H. Alford, 1810-1871, and Anna L. Barbauld, 1743-1825" where the first verse is the traditional Alford text, but the remaining stanzas are:

All the blessings of the field,
all the stores the gardens yield,
all the fruits in full supply,
ripen'd 'neath the summer sky,
all that spring with bounteous hand
scatters o'er the smiling land,
all that lib'ral autumn pours
comes from God's o'erflowing stores.

We ourselves are God's own field
fruit unto his 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 appeear;
grant, O harvest Lord, that we
wholesome grain and pure may be.

The last verse is obviously based on Alford, but I take it the second verse is Barbauld.

Eat thankfully!

Leland aka Haruo

C.W.S. said...

That second stanza is derived from Barbauld's Praise to God, immortal praise, discussed here on 6/20/09.

Unfortunately it does away with much of Alford's parable of the harvest as metaphor for the Christian life.

That radical Erik Routley! >irony alert<

C.W.S. said...

Just so we are not carrying on a conversation only between ourselves, I will point out that Erik Routley was the editor of Rejoice in the Lord and hardly a radical of any kind.

Leland Bryant Ross said...

He's also recognized in the prefatory matter thereto as one of the main movers behind the compilation and publication of the Summit Choirbook (of the Dominican Nuns of Summit, NJ).

I agree that Alford's stanzas are best left in place even if minutiae are modified, but given your interest in hyrrhnists (feminine of hymnists) ;-) you might want to note Barbauld's use here.

Leland aka Haruo

Leland Bryant Ross said...

Incidentally, I'm also interested by Rejoice in the Lord's shift from Alford's "All the world is God's own field" to "We ourselves are God's own field"...

C.W.S. said...

I'm a little confused; Barbauld's hymn is totally distinct from Alford's, and I wrote about it back in June. They are only combined in the example from Rejoice in the Lord, which was not a part of my original blog entry.

We ourselves..., rather than All the world is God's own field suggests perhaps a more personal (or corporate) connection to this parable of God's harvest. It may have been thought that All the world... had a hint of the mission hymn about it which is somewhat out of favor these days in many places. I don't know what they were thinking, but I interpret the original line as conveying a more inclusive theme than only We ourselves...

Leland Bryant Ross said...

I agree, "We ourselves" sounds to me almost selfishly predestinarian, though I doubt it was intended that way.