I’ve been watching the series The Crown on Netflix – it’s the story of the first few years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, told in that predictably sweeping BBC style that endears to us such shows as Downton Abbey and Call the Midwife. It’s full of beautiful scenery, palace intrigue (literally in this case), and lots of traditional music intertwined with the glorious score written for the show. As expected, several scenes happen in religious settings (state funerals, royal weddings, coronations – just regular stuff), and thus the familiar English hymns make prominent appearance.
And so it is with this mental backdrop that I approach this hymn today. It is set to a tune called “St George’s Windsor” – which made me think immediately of the Royal Family, knowing that in the House of Windsor there have been a couple of Georges (although I doubt many would consider them saints). And sure enough, the composer George Elvey was the organist at the Windsor Chapel, hence the name. (Elvey also wrote “Crown Him with Many Crowns” – which is another staple in mainline Protestant churches).
This is, as the Psalter Hymnal Handbook describes, “a serviceable Victorian tune.”
Talk about damning with faint praise.
Come, ye thankful people, come, raise a song of harvest home:
fruit and crops are gathered in, safe before the storms begin;
God, our Maker, will provide for our needs to be supplied;
come to God’s own temple, come, raise a song of harvest home.
All the world is but a field, given for a fruitful yield;
wheat and tares together sown, here for 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.
Now here’s the truth for me: it’s not a hymn that gets my blood moving or my spirit soaring. It’s not a hymn that comforts me or inspires me. And yet, I really like it. It appeals to that part of me that cries every time I hear Holst’s Planets, or the English hymn Jerusalem (click on that link – it’s a stunning rendition). It is a lovely English melody tinged with pomp and circumstance, and for some reason, that works for me. As unstuffy as I am, I very much appreciate this tune.
I realize I haven’t talked lyrics today. It’s not that they’re not interesting – they are. The metaphor of harvest for human goodness is an intriguing one worth unpacking some day. I don’t know that I’ve actually read the lyrics before (because it’s possible to sing the words but not actually read the lyrics), but I’m intrigued. I have no conclusions yet… but there’s something aspirational about “grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be”…and maybe a little unattainable. But just as we will never get close to the crown by watching The Crown, we will never get to pure by singing about it. But it sure is nice to think that we’re working on it.