This is a list of
traditional harvest songs for the grain harvest with a few modern songs written
in a similar style. Most are in English, some have Celtic influence. They
include songs about reaping the grain, dancing in the fields, and singing at a
celebration feast or a Thanksgiving dinner. The grain harvest occurs whenever
the grain is ripe, generally early in August in northern countries. This is now
set to August 1st or Lammas. The community celebration occurs whenever the grain
has all been gotten in--it would normally have fallen on the full moon of
August, set to about the 15th of August according to annual calendars. Although
I had often heard that many traditional folk songs went back to Pagan times, it
was very difficult to find harvest songs that had not been christianized. I was
able to find several, though most of these songs are more secular than Pagan.
For each of these songs, I have tried to give the name of the song and its
original source; a place where the lyrics and music are published so that you
can learn to sing them if you like. Even with the links to sites that have these
songs, I found it difficult to collect the lyrics so I made a page to make it
easier to print out just the Harvest Song Lyrics that are the 16 easiest ones to
sing. There is also information about where you can find a recording. Some of
these songs can be downloaded for free or they can be listened to for free--I
usually look them up on MySpace which has links to many songs that can be
listened to without paying. There are 22 songs here, numbered for convenience:
1. Reapers Dance
In Shakespeare’s time it was still
possible to see and hear people singing as they reaped grain in the fields. This
is probably the inspiration for the interlude in the play the Tempest,
where Prospero calls “spirits” in the form of nymphs and harvesters to perform a
dance for a young couple in love. An isolated sheet of music, marked “Tempest”
(BM Add. Ms. 10444, No. 62) and attributed to Robert Johnson, is thought to have
been written for this. Shakespeare introduces the Reapers Dance in Act IV i 138
with the words:
“You sunburned sicklemen, of August early,
Come hither from the furrow,
and be merry.
Make holiday; your rye-straw hats put on,
And these fresh
nymphs encounter every one
In country footing.”
2. Wiltshire Reapers Dances
The Wiltshire Reapers Dance
was collected as a Morris Dance in Wiltshire, by Cecil Sharp in the late 1800’s.
Morris Dancing has a number of sources from which it sprang, but the oldest is
probably a men’s war dance to protect the ripening grain. It is most often used
in the spring but the Wiltshire Reapers Dance was associated with the late
summer harvest. Part of the music for this dance has the same theme as the music
used in the Tempest, and it may be a testament to how persistent folk
traditions can be that this music, dance and its association with reaping should
continue from the 1600’s into the very early 20th century. The music and a set
of dance steps for this are given in “English Dance and Song” (Journal), Vol. 16,
No. 4, for 1952, pp. 113 and 119. A CD with the music for this dance is
available from the English Folk Dance and Song Society.
3. Harvest Home
The customs of the harvesters as they
brought the last sheaves of grain in from the fields are described in the
Golden Bough, in Vol. 7: 135ff, see especially p. 146 for the English
custom. The harvesters decorated the last sheaf of grain with ribbons and
flowers and carried it on the top of the last cart and they sang “harvest home!”
as they came in from the fields. There are many versions of the Harvest Home
song, with the first line: “Your hay it is mow’d...” or “Our oats they are
hoe’d...” Some versions of this song are so old that they go back to a time when
the Christian Church in England could still force farmers to pay one tenth of
their income in farm produce to the church, in accord with the biblical
injunction for tithing. Needless to say this didn’t go over very well with
farmers. The song is included in the opera King Arthur, with music by
Henry Purcell (where it is No. 25 in the abridged concert edition). The first
performance of the opera was in 1691. A really good performance of the song,
here called Ritornello, item No. 37, can be found on the recording of the opera
Purcell: King Arthur, with conductor John Eliot Gardiner, and the Monteverdi Choir
and English Baroque Soloists, 1983. Most of this opera sounds baroque, but this
song sounds like a folk song. Another version of the song called “The Farmers’ Vain
Glory” was also published in d’Urfey, Vol. 5, p. 141-142. Here are the words for the version by Purcell:
Your hay it is mow’d and your corn it is reap’d.
Your barns will
be full and your hovels heap’d
Come, boys, come,
Come, boys, come.
And merrily roar out our harvest home.
And merrily roar out our harvest
Harvest home, harvest home!
And merrily roar
out our harvest home.
And merrily roar out our harvest home.
We’ve cheated the parson, we’ll cheat him again,
For why should a
blockhead have one in ten?
One in ten, one in ten,
For why should a
blockhead have one in ten?
For why should a blockhead have one in ten?
Chorus (all sing last three lines of last verse)
For prating so long, like a book-learn’d sot,
Till pudding and dumpling
are burnt to the pot:
Burnt to pot, burnt to pot
Till pudding and
dumpling are burnt to pot.
Till pudding and dumpling are burnt to pot.
Chorus (all sing last three lines of last verse)
We’ll toss off our ale till we cannot stand;
And heigh for the honour of
Old England, old England
And heigh for the honour of old
And heigh for the honour of old England.
Chorus (all sing
last three lines of last verse)
Final chorus (all):
Harvest home, harvest home!
for the honour of old England.
The chorus, which everyone joins in, is different each time, but it is
just the last three lines of each verse, so if anyone knows the song, everyone
can sing along. You can hear Harvest Home with much arrgghhing! on YouTube.
4. Crying the Neck
Crying the Mare or Crying the Neck is
a harvest custom still practiced in Cornwall among local farmers, and this form
of the ritual probably has a Celtic influence. Among the Indo-European-speaking
people, the Grain Goddess is often associated with horses. The Grain Goddess has
a name like Dea or Devi in most of the Indo-European languages, and some of the
forms of this name in each of the Indo-European language groups are given on the
page for the Goddess Devi.
The custom of Crying the Neck is described in detail in the Golden
Bough, 7: 264-269, and Vol. 7:292-294, and you can watch part of Crying the Neck in Cornwall on YouTube. There is also a good site about Crying the Neck at Legendary Dartmoor which has more
information about the custom with good pictures and the words to some more
5. The Rondelay or Harvest Home
This song, with the
first line, “When the farmer has fallow’d and till’d all his land...” was
honestly bowdlerized by S. Baring-Gould in English Minstrelsie, Vol. 5,
pp. 38-40 under the title Harvest Home. He gives the music and attributes the
composition to L. Atterbury who died in 1796, although broadside copies of it
are older. The last verse which Baring-Gould left out goes like this (but you
might not want to sing this verse at your grandfather’s house):
Down life’s sloping hill while old Square Toes jogs on,
And sums up the
treasure in store for his son,
Young Hopeful thinks long ’til Fate winds up
That gives him possession of acres and farm.
Then what should
he do? what should he do?
Sing harvest home, harvest home!
never fails to bring harvest home.
6. A Contented Country Lass/Lad/Maid
The first line is,
“I am a brisk and bonnie maid ...,” or, “... a brisk and bonnie lad (lass).” The
words and music are published by Peter Kennedy in Folksongs of Britain and
Ireland, p. 552 (item No. 244, under the title Brisk and Bonny
Lass). The song, called “A Contented Country Lad” and sung by Jim and
Bob Copper, can be found on the World Library Of Folk & Primitive Music, Vol. 1:
England which was recorded by Alan Lomax. According to Alan Lomax in
the liner notes (which also include the words), this song was written by
evangelists to encourage young women to be “contented” with their lot, no matter
how difficult and unappreciated, but I like it anyway.
7. The Reaphook and the Sickle
The words and music for
the Reaphook and the Sickle are available on the net at
the new Joe-Offer site which has saved the information from Folkinfo.org which closed in 2012. The song is
recorded by Waterson:Carthy on the Holy Heathens CD, and I was able to listen to this on MySpace.
8. Harvest Season by Clan na Gael
Most of the songs on
this list are “traditional” and are not copyright to anyone, although the actual
performances or recordings may be. This song is a modern song copyright to
George Leverett. It is performed by Clan na Gael (one of many bands by that
name), and the words to the song are included in the liner notes to the CD.
Although this song is neopagan, I thought it had the spirit of the traditional
harvest songs. It also fits a bit better with the later harvest (including
apples and root vegetables) and the date of the American Thanksgiving holiday,
which falls in late November. Clan na Gael disbanded a long time ago but George
and Anwyn Leverett are still involved in music and they make beautiful medieval
musical instruments, such as hurdy-gurdies and harps. They have a website at http://www.altarwind.com.
9. Harvest Song by Beltane
This is another modern song
in the old tradition, and it’s also appropriate for the time of the American
Thanksgiving, and very beautiful. It’s on the CD by Beltane called Before the
High Feast and I was able to listen to this on MySpace.
10. The Jolly Ploughboy
There are several completely
different songs with this title: the one I like has the words and music
published by Cecil Sharp in English Country Folk Songs, p. 6-7 (you can
skip verse 2). Both the words and music for Jolly Plowboy are available on Digital Tradition. The Jolly Plowboy is beautifully sung by John Langstaff with Martin Best on the Nottamun Town CD. You can also hear the song Jolly Ploughboy being sung on YouTube by Mrs. Gandara's fifth grade class. It's the first 1:44 of the video, which is otherwise about Apple Howling and goes to 7:42.
11. All of a Row
The words and music for this song are
published by Sabine Baring-Gould in English Minstrelsie, Vol. 2, pp.
34-35. A number of variations of this song are published under the title
“Harvest Feast Song” which has better words in the Folk Music Journal
for 1968 (pp. 250-251). The song is performed on September 30th by Jon Boden on
A Folk Song a Day CD for September which has several
good harvest songs. It’s also performed by Martin Carthy and the Albion Band in
Lark Rise to Candleford, a BBC movie on DVD, and there is a version by
Martin Carthy on the Sweet Wivelsfield CD which can be listened to through
MySpace. I haven’t seen the movie, but it’s based on the writings of Flora
Thompson, which show that although life was simpler in the old days, it could
also be much harder.
12. All Among the Barley
This is a very pretty song,
suitable for September. The song is old since it was published in broadsides;
many variations with tune and sources are given in the journal English Dance
and Song, 1967. The words to All Among the Barley are published on Digital Tradition. The sheet music
for the setting by Elizabeth Stirling for three voices is
available on the Library of Congress website (click on "view this item"). There is a performance by Tinkers Bag of All Among the Barley on YouTube. This version has too much chat, but it has an extra verse, too. A beautiful a capella version can be heard on MySpace by the Singing Milkmaids from their album On the Wash.
13. The Mow
The music is the same as the well-known
Ariel’s Song in Shakespeare’s play, the Tempest, which is thought to
have been composed by Robert Johnson, but this is a different set of lyrics, and
what a great improvement they are. The words are included (without music) in
Ancient Poems by Robert Bell, p. 157-158. Ariel’s Song with the traditional Tempest lyrics is beautifully
performed on YouTube, though I don’t know how anyone can sing this and keep a
straight face. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any performance of the song with
the lyrics of the Mow.
Harvest Supper Songs
In the 1800’s, it was the custom of
the farmer who hired the reapers for the duration of the reaping season (only a
few days at each farm) to “pay” them lavishly in beer and beef, in hopes that
they would come back next year, since the farmer was absolutely dependent on
them to bring in his crop. As a result the reapers got very drunk at the harvest
suppers, which really isn’t all that amusing. Nevertheless, I have included a
couple of drinking songs, since beer is ultimately one of the major products of
the barley harvest.
14. and 15. Harvest Supper Song and Harvest
These two songs are variants, but with the same chorus,
“drink, boys, drink...” The (Wiltshire) Harvest Supper Song is sung to one
version of the tune of the Jolly Miller. Here are the words corrected from the
novel Adam Bede by George Eliot (1859):
Here’s a health unto our master, the founder of the feast,
health unto our master, and to our mistress.
And may his doings prosper,
whate’er he takes in hand,
For we are all his servants, and are at his
Then drink, boys, drink,
And see ye do not spill.
For if ye do, ye shall drink two,
For ’tis our master’s will.
Now harvest it is ended and supper it is past.
To our good mistress’
health, boys, a full and flowing glass,
For she is a good woman, and makes
us all good cheer
Here’s to our mistress’ health, boys, so all drink off
The words and music for Harvest Away are at Digital Tradition. I couldn’t find
any recordings of either one of these songs.
16. The Barley Mow
This is a cumulative drinking song,
and the drunker you are the harder it is to sing it, which drunk people think is
funny. The words and music are published in the Peter Kennedy book and there is
a version of the lyrics for Barley Mow at Musicanet.org. The music and words and chords for Barley Mow are available
on the traditionalmusic site.
There are several excellent recordings of this but I was able to listen to it
for free on MySpace in a beautiful performance by the Revels Chorus on the CD The Wild Mountain Thyme. There is also a version of the Barley Mow sung by Seamus Kennedy on YouTube which is entertaining. In any case,
the harvest supper would be followed with singing and dancing for everyone
17. John Barleycorn
This song gives the progress of the
grain through the growing season. As has been widely noticed, John Barleycorn is
a personification of barley and the song is a retelling of the Myth of the Dying
Corn God, one of the standard Proto-Indo-European Myths. Of course some of the more
bizarre ideas that have been developed from this is a “theory” that the Pagans
used to sacrifice human beings and pour their blood out on the ground to improve
their wheat crop. As absurd as this is, it is still a sad fantasy among some
modern Christians that someone has to be tortured and killed for the benefit of
someone else. Just to be clear, it was the actual grain that was “killed”
(harvested) and “beaten” (threshed), while the “blood” and “flesh” of the grain
are actually beer and bread. At least that’s true for Indo-European Pagans.
After that sad topic, let’s move on to this beautiful song. My favorite of
the many versions of this song is by Traffic, and it appears on their Greatest
Hits CD and originally on the John Barleycorn Must Die CD. I had trouble finding these words, so here they are:
There were three men came out of the West
their fortunes for to try,
And these three men made a solemn vow
“John Barleycorn must die.”
They’ve plowed, they’ve sown, they’ve harrowed him in,
threw clods upon
And these three men made a solemn vow
“John Barleycorn was
They’ve let him lie for a very long time,
’til the rains from heaven did
And little Sir John sprang up his head
and so amazed them all.
They let him stand ’til Mid-Summer’s Day
’til he looked both pale and
And little Sir John’s grown a long, long beard
and so become a man.
They’ve hired men with the scythes so sharp
to cut him off at the knee;
They’ve rolled him and tied him by the waist
serving him most
They’ve hired men with the sharp pitchforks
who pricked him to the heart.
And the loader he has served him worse than that,
for he’s bound him to
They’ve wheeled him around and around the field
’til they came unto a
And there they made a solemn oath,
On poor John Barleycorn.
They’ve hired men with the crab-tree sticks
to cut him skin from bone.
And the miller he has served him worse than that,
for he’s ground him
between two stones.
And little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl,
and he’s brandy in the glass,
And little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl
proved the strongest man at
The huntsman he can’t hunt the fox
nor so loudly to blow his horn.
And the tinker he can’t mend kettles nor pots
without a little
You can listen to John Barleycorn Must Die by Traffic on YouTube which includes the lyrics (and a 12 second advertisement, sorry to say).
There is another version by Steeleye Span with slightly different words, on the
Below the Salt CD for which there are guitar chords.
There are a couple of easy children’s
songs to celebrate the harvest, and for the second one you can easily figure out
how to act out the words.
18. Children’s Harvest Song
This song is based on a
traditional French folk tune, and translated to English by A. Vial de Sabligny.
It was published in the First Music Reader by James McLaughlin, et
alia, Ginn & Company, Boston, 1906.
This is in the public
domain so I have included a scan of the words and music.
19. Oats, Peas, Beans and Barley
The words and music for
a version appropriate to children are available at the MamaLisa webpage which
has sheet music and a page with words and two links to videos which give the
song as it is sung and also the instructions of the circle game and a video
showing how the children play the game. Under the title “Oats and Beans and
Barley,” this can be listened to for free on MySpace in a performance by the
children of the Revels Chorus on the The Wild Mountain Thyme CD, which is very short, but quite lovely. And then Oats and Beans and Barley Grow as sung by Raffi, I think, can be heard on
YouTube with additional exclamations added by the cute little boy getting dizzy.
The end of the grain harvest was celebrated
by the whole community with a horse fair often called a Lammas Fair in areas
where Celtic influence is strong, or it could be named after the town where it
was held. This was actually a livestock market where farmers could buy and sell
what had been produced during the summer. These fairs provided an opportunity
for isolated farm folk to socialize, show off, compete in games, enjoy and
participate in dance and music performances and perhaps meet a prospective
partner. In the United States we know these as County Fairs. Two traditional
songs commemorate this; not incidentally, both are love songs.
20. Brigg Fair
This was an old song sung by Joseph
Taylor and recorded on a wax cylinder in 1905 by Percy Grainger who then
published it as an “art song”. The lyrics to Brigg Fair are published at Digital Tradition and you can leave
off the last verse on that page since it was added by Percy Grainger and doesn’t
even rhyme. For recordings, I try to avoid any version attributed to Percy
Grainger; even Chanticleer can’t make this sound good--it’s too mannered for me.
My favorite recording in the folksong tradition was made by Isla Cameron (who
can handle the rather complex tune) on the World Library Of Folk & Primitive Music, Vol. 1:
England, one of the many recordings made by Alan Lomax. It has also
been recorded by Martin Carthy on the Byker Hill CD, which you can listen to on
MySpace. Shirley Collins performs it on The Sweet Primroses CD
and there is also another good version by Gloria Jeffries with guitar, both of which you can hear on YouTube. As much
as I like Shirley Collins, this song really needs to be sung by a guy or by
somebody who sounds like a guy.
21. Corn Rigs are Bonnie
This song is known by several
titles including Rigs o’ Barley, the name under which it was collected or
written by Robert Burns. The words and music for this version are published in
A Bonnie Bunch of Roses, Songs of England, Ireland and Scotland by Dan
Milner and Paul Kaplan, p. 183. The words and music for Corn Riggs are available on the net
at Digital Tradition, and also on Corn Riggs on folktunefinder, a good site but only if the song has a
unique title. Corn Riggs is sung by Paul Giovanni in the opening
credits of the Wicker Man, a 1973 movie, that gives a perfectly
hilarious fantasy about Pagan sacrifice. Because only part of the song is used
for the movie, the last verse was left out. It’s quite charming, so I include it
I have been blithe with comrades dear; I have been merry drinking;
been joyful gathering gear; I have been happy thinking;
But all the
pleasures ever I saw, though three times doubled fairly,
That happy night
was worth them all, among the rigs of barley.
Besides the performance by Paul Giovanni, there is another nice performance
of Corn Riggs, with all the verses sung by Kevin Thompson with guitar on
22. Fields of Gold by Sting
This modern song is included
because everyone likes it, and it’s very beautiful. It’s copyright to Sting, but
you probably already have a copy. If not, it’s on the Ten Summoner’s Tales CD.
Here is a link to the lyrics for Fields of Gold. By the way, the correct line is, “See
the west wind move like a lover’s soul, upon the fields of barley.” The words
appear incorrectly even on the liner notes of the CD, and I’m sure he would be
thrilled to know that I am proofreading his lyrics on the internet. [fuggle26]
So here is a link to the Harvest Song Lyrics page with 16 of the easier-to-sing harvest songs. And I hope this adds up to enough songs that you can put together a CD that you might like to listen to at the appropriate season, or even better, sing the songs yourself.
• In researching this list, I found a CD by Broceliande
called Barley Rigs which is for sale on Amazon. It’s a selection of harvest songs and whatever else they
happened to feel like including. You can find more information about it at their
website at Barley Rigs CD. This music is somewhat formal, not so
much like folk music, but you can hear samples of their singing on their
website, and they have beautiful voices. I liked it so I thought you might like it too. They have several CD’s appropriate for different seasons.
• The Bonnie Bunch of Roses: Songs of England, Ireland & Scotland by Dan Milner and Paul Kaplan, Oak Publications, NY, 1983.
• Ancient Poems: Songs and Ballads of the English Peasantrie by Robert Bell, John W. Parker and Son, London, 1857.
• English Country Folk Songs, ed. Cecil Sharp, Novello & Co. Ltd., London, 1908, 1961.
• English Dance and Song (journal), pub. by the English Folk Dance and Song Society, Cecil Sharp House, London, 1936.
• English Minstrelsie, ed. Sabine Baring-Gould; T. C. Jack, Grange Publ. Works, Edinburgh, 1896.
• Folk Music Journal, pub. by the English Folk Dance and Song Society, Cecil Sharp House, London, 1965.
• Folksongs Of Britain And Ireland, ed. by Peter Kennedy, Oak Publications, NY, 1984.
• Golden Bough by James George Frazer, MacMillan & Co. Ltd., London, 1919-1920 (12 vol. edition).
• King Arthur by Henry Purcell and John Dryden, Abridged Concert Edition, ed. by W. H. Cummings, Novello & Co. Ltd., 1897.
• Wit and Mirth, or Pills to Purge Melancholy, by Thomas d’Urfey, Folklore Library Publishers, New York, 1959 (6 books in 3 volumes).
• Holy Heathens CD by Waterson:Carthy.
Thanks to Paulo for technical assistance!
This page was originally at pierce.yolasite.com/harvestsongs but Yola went out of business, so the page has been migrated here.
© 2009, last updated 5/15/2014, at piereligion.org/harvestsongs.html