HYMN 188 We Plough the Fields and Scatter
Danish: Vi pløjed og vi så'de
German: Wir pflügen und wir Streuen
Text: Matthias Claudius (1740-1815). Tune: Johann Abraham Peter Schulz (1747-1800)
1. 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.
2. 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.
Chorus 3. We thank Thee, then, O Father, for all things bright and good, The seed time and the harvest, our life, our health, and food; No gifts have we to offer, for all Thy love imparts, But that which Thou desirest, our humble, thankful hearts.
Tr. Jane Montgomery Campbell
London, January 1972. I was there on an interim break visiting colleagues on sabbatical. They had bought tickets for Godspell, the hit musical of the year. It included a few well known hymns and this one. I was a goner. It was Sunday School for backsliders. A moment and wonderful memory.
Thirty-two years later, I was on sabbatical in Løgumkloster, in southern Jutland, for six weeks. Every morning at dawn, and evening at sunset, a carillon given by King Frederick IX of Denmark would play Danish hymns to either awaken us or bring us back home from the fields. It was in the tradition of the bells ringing the Angelus, a prayer that marked the end of the work day--as the Millet painting above shows. I usually knew the hymns.
But there was one I could not place, even though it was familiar. Then it struck me: it was this hymn. But it had a German title and had been written in German. The hymns that the carillon played were Danish. I then began to learn a bit more about the complicated history of Schleswig Holstein and its moving borders over the past two hundred years. Claudius was a pastor’s son, born in Reinfeld, Holstein. He went to Jena to study theology. But ill health and his disappointment with the rationalism of the day led him to study law and literature. For a short time he served as a private secretary in Copenhagen. Claudius had been a rationalist—he was born in the period of the Enlightenment. But as he worked and rubbed shoulders with the philosophes like Goethe whom he came to know, he grew less and less enchanted by their ideas and moved to become a staunch Christian. He edited a newspaper in Hamburg, and then in Wandsbeck. Appointed as a banker in Altona, he continued writing prose and poetry. This and his poem “Der Mond ist aufgegangen” became classic hymns. He had written this poem for a scene in a story that involved peasants singing together as they worked. It had many more stanzas. Campbell translated only these three.
We don’t sing hymns like this as we used to when everyone lived near the farm. We knew that what happened on the farm made the difference in how the winter would go. Would there be food enough for all?
As the song was ringing out over the quiet town where trucks with sileage would come to the drying plants to have it dried for their cattle, scenting the air with a unique odor, I walked around the small town and the fields and woods. There were bright red rosehips on the rosebriars in the ditches, chestnuts thudding down on the streets, cows munching on the grass in the rich green meadows fed by burbling brooks. The fields of food around the small town had once again given us our daily bread. The song teaches us the round of life on the farm, and that all good gifts come from heaven above. And thanks are due.
NOTE: One of Mindekirken’s most faithful members, the late Dagny Jorgenson, was born in Germany on February 10, 1920, during the plebiscite on where the border of Denmark and Germany should be. Now it was Denmark. Her father was not at her birth because he was out celebrating that they were now Danish! She giggled as she told me.
Because it was written in German, the hymn became known in Germany. An English divine heard it sung and liked it enough to have it translated into English. It was printed in the venerable Hymns: Ancient and Modern, 1861. A Danish pastor, Jakob Christian Lindberg Knudsen, (1858-1917) attending a service in England, heard this hymn and liked it enough to want to translate it into Danish. As he did his research on the hymn he discovered both the author and the composer were Danish!
Johann Abraham Peter Schulz, the composer of this hymn, was born in Lüneberg, an old Hanseatic city southeast of Hamburg. He studied music in Berlin and came to Copenhagen where he served as the organist at the cathedral. He wrote the tunes for both of Claudius’ texts plus "Thy little ones, dear Lord, are we/Her kommer dine arme smaa" among many others. Scholars regret his early death, as he was just beginning to have an impact on Danish church music by writing folk like tunes that were easily accessible to the people.
English version/sweet pictures of children bringing gifts
Coro Misto/ Danish choir in Flensburg
Choir with Gerhard Schnitter
The Godspell version
Valdemar Rasmussen Jazz Trio