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The Story Behind a Harvest Hymn

The Story Behind a Harvest Hymn

My food comes via a trip to the supermarket, but I do sometimes think about all the folk involved in its production, whose names I will never know – some of whom don’t have enough to live on themselves. Harvest hymns are always about being thankful, our reliance on the work of others; and the final harvest of our lives, with its question: ‘What have I sown, what will be reaped from my  efforts?’


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.
All good gifts around us
Are sent from heaven above,
Then thank the Lord,
O thank the Lord,
For all His love.

We Plough the Fields and Scatter (left) was written by Matthias Claudius in German, based on Psalm 144, published in 1782 and translated into English by Jane Montgomery Campbell in 1861. She taught the hymn to the children at the parish school in London where her father was the rector. 

It appears in a shortened form in the musical Godspell, as the song All Good Gifts. 

Poet John Betjeman parodied the hymn as ‘We spray the fields and scatter poison on the land’ as a protest against modern farming methods and new planning legislation. 

The updated verse ‘We plough the fields with tractors’is sung in schools.

Write your own version

I wonder what a 2019, written-in-Crich verse would sound like?

Could you write a verse that would go with We Plough the Fields and Scatter for our Harvest celebrations?

Send your verse to: 

Martyn Offord (martynofford@googlemail.com)

or Anette Love (anette.love@btinternet.com)

You could win a fish ’n’ chip supper for two!


by Anette Love

Photo by Roger Phipp

The Harvest Hymn by John Betjaman

We spray the fields and scatter
The poison on the ground
So that no wicked wild flowers
Upon our farm be found.
We like whatever helps us
To line our purse with pence;

The twenty-four-hour broiler-
house and neat electric fence.

All concrete sheds around us
And Jaguars in the yard,
The telly lounge and deep-freeze
Are ours from working hard.

We Plough the Fields - Updated for Schools

We plough the fields with tractors,
with drills we sow the land;
but growth is still
the wondrous gift
Of God’s almighty hand.
We use our fertilisers
To help the growing grain;
But for its full fruition,
It needs God’s sun and rain.

The real meaning of Harvest

is all there in the letters, we do

        Have a lot!
        Rain, rice: let’s pray for those people and places that              lack both
        Vast resources neither to be trashed nor squandered
This Earth is lent on trust and needs good care
        Share what we can to give poverty the boot!
        Thanks: one of the first and most important words                   we teach children