Come, ye thankful people, come

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.

This favourite Harvest Festival hymn was written by Henry Alford (1810-1871) and first published in his Psalms and Hymns (1844). It was subsequently revised in his Poetical Works (1865/68) and his Year of Praise (1867) in seven verses. Most modern hymnals restrict the hymn to four verses, with some unwelcome editorial changes. The hymn echos two of Christ's parables; Matthew 13:24-30 (the story of the wheat and the tares) and Mark 4:26-29 (the story of the seed springing up without the sower knowing of it). This latter text includes the words: "For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come."

This Biblical quotation is closely followed in lines 5-8 of verse 2 in the original edition (as followed by The English Hymnal), but was ruined by the editorial changes made in Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861). Verses 3 and 4 also suffered at the hands of editors who should have known better; it is hardly surprising that Alford was critical of these changes, and it is disappointing to see them perpetuated in the 1983 New Standard edition. Despite Alford's justified criticism of editorial changes, there has also been some criticism of the hymn itself. Erik Routley in his Hymns Today and Tomorrow (1964) comments that only the first verse is an expression of thanksgiving, with the rest being a homily on certain biblical texts on the theme of the last judgement.

Henry Alford was the son of the Rector of Aston Sandford. Educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, he took Holy Orders in 1833. He was vicar of Wymeswold, Leicestershire for 18 years, and later became Dean of Canterbury in 1857. Alford was a noted hymnologist and his other great magnum opus was his Greek Testament, an important reference for New Testament scholarship.

Tune - St George's Windsor

The tune St George's Windsor was written by Sir George Elvey (1816-93) for Thorne's A Selection of Psalm and Hymn Tunes (1858) where it was set to the hymn "Hark, the song of Jubilee". It was set to the words of "Come, ye thankful people, come" in Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861). Elvey was organist of St George's Chapel, Windsor from 1835 to 1882.

Nigel Day
St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 30th September 1997