We Plough the Fields and Scatter

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"We Plough the Fields and Scatter" is an English hymn commonly associated with harvest festival. The hymn was originally German, by poet Matthias Claudius, "Wir pflügen und wir streuen" published in 1782, and set to music in 1800, and attributed to Johann A. P. Schulz.[1] It was translated into English by Jane Montgomery Campbell in 1861. It appears in a shortened form in the musical Godspell, as the song, "All Good Gifts".[2] It is amongst the most performed of hymns in the United Kingdom.[3]



In 1777, Matthias Claudius had become ill and returned to Christianity after leaving it in his 20s.[4] During his illness he wrote a number of poems. In 1782, a friend invited him over for dinner and asked him to bring one of the Christian poems he had written. Claudius wrote "We Plough The Fields And Scatter" based on Psalm 144 for this occasion with 17 verses.[5] The poem was then published in "Asinus omnia sua secum portans" as a peasant's song. From there, it was published across Germany in number of hymnbooks. The majority of these cut down on the original 17 verses with the publishers often deciding to start with the 3rd verse which started with "Wir pflügen und wir streuen" (English: We Plough The Fields And Scatter).[4]

English translation[edit]

In 1862 in England, Jane Montgomery Campbell, who was proficient in the German language, started to translate a number of German hymns into English. She translated "Wir pflügen und wir streuen" into English as "We Plough the Fields and Scatter"; however, she did not make a strict translation from the original German but ensured retention of the hymn's original focus of giving thanks to God for the harvest.[6] She taught the hymn to the children at the Church of England parish school in London where her father was the rector.[4] The hymn was later published in Charles Bere's Garland of Songs and Children's Chorale Book.[4]


The hymn is predominantly used as a hymn to give thanks to God for the harvest festival; however, it has also been used in the United States as a hymn for Thanksgiving.[7] The hymn has also been referenced in popular culture. In 1969, future Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, John Betjeman parodied the hymn as "We spray the fields and scatter/the poison on the land" published in Harvest Times as a protest against modern farming methods and new planning legislation.[6][8]

"We Plough The fields and Scatter" has also had a number of unofficial updated verses for it. An anonymous revised first verse which alluded to Betjeman's parody was published titled "We Plough the Fields with tractors".[9] This verse, however, has been criticised as banal as it would not reference the history of the harvest.[10][11]


Lyrics as published in 1861 in A Garland of Songs:

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;
No gifts have we to offer, for all Thy love imparts,
But that which Thou desirest, our humble, thankful hearts.


Verse 3 was revised to make it better suited to the harvest in Hymns Ancient and Modern, 1868 Appendix:

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.

The hymn references Acts 14:17 (verse 1), James 1:17 (chorus), Psalms 65:7 and Matthew 6:26 (verse 2, line 3).


  1. ^ "We Plow the Fields". Hymntime.com. Retrieved 2012-03-14. 
  2. ^ "Lyrics, All Good Gifts Lyrics >>". Stlyrics.com. Retrieved 2012-03-14. 
  3. ^ Hastings, Chris (2005-03-27). "Traditional songs beat the 'happy clappers' hands down in search for Britain's best hymns". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2012-03-14. 
  4. ^ a b c d "We plough the fields, and scatter". Hymnary.org. Retrieved 2015-11-03. 
  5. ^ Petersen, William J. (2013). "November 29". The One Year Book of Psalms. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. ISBN 1414362293. 
  6. ^ a b Jones, Aled (2009). "28". Aled Jones' Forty Favourite Hymns. Random House. ISBN 1409050777. 
  7. ^ Russell, Katherine (2010). "Acknowledgments". Deed So. Katherine Russell. ISBN 0982960220. 
  8. ^ Morse, Greg (2008). John Betjeman: Reading the Victorians. Sussex Academic Press. p. 128. ISBN 1845192710. 
  9. ^ Bradley, Ian (2006). Daily Telegraph Book of Hymns. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 486. ISBN 1441139699. 
  10. ^ "Harvest festival reminds us where food comes from". This is Cornwall. 2010-10-16. Retrieved 2015-11-03. 
  11. ^ "We plough the fields". Telegraph. 2003-11-06. Retrieved 2015-11-03.