Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Harvest

It’s a mysterious poem that has been given various titles: “A Farmer’s Grace,” “Silver Rain,” “Mealtime Blessing,” and “Scarlet Poppies,” but most sources call it “The Harvest” and name its author as Alice C. Henderson (most likely Alice Corbin Henderson, the associate editor of Poetry magazine from 1912 – 1922).* 
The Harvest

The silver rain, the shining sun
The fields where scarlet poppies run
And all the ripples of the wheat
Are in the bread that we now eat.

And when we sit at every meal
And say our grace we always feel
That we are eating rain and sun
And fields where scarlet poppies run.
            —Alice C. Henderson

Given the images of plentiful grain and mealtime grace, it’s easy to see why the poem is popular at Thanksgiving.  It reminds us that we are all connected to the earth that provides our food, but other connections and reminders are also seeded throughout the poem.  If the poem were written during or after the First World War, the scarlet poppies would also readily evoke memories of John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” and the numerous other poems that associated the poppies of the Western Front with the dead of the Great War.

The scarlet poppies in “The Harvest” do not bloom or wave in the fields – they run in the way that blood runs on battlefields.  And during the war, food was deeply connected with fighting.  Citizens were reminded of the fact in the rationing posters that were everywhere:

“Don’t Waste Bread! Save Two Thick Slices Every Day and Defeat the “U” Boat
“Victory is a Question of Stamina – Send the Wheat, Meat, Fats, Sugar – the Fuel for Fighters”
“This is the loaf that must win the war”
“Waste of FOOD is Disloyalty; Economy of FOOD is Patriotism; Production of FOOD is National Service”

Even the poem’s title, “The Harvest,” suggests the grim harvest of battle and the millions of young men who had died, feeling a deep connection to their homelands. (Rupert Brooke’s “If I should die, think only this of me; / That there’s some corner of a foreign field / That is for ever England” is the best-known example).

“The Harvest” is a prayer of thanksgiving for rain and sun and wheat and poppies – and perhaps also for the soldiers who are buried on the fields of the First World War.  Those who eat the rain and sun are also partaking in a communion with the dead as they literally eat the bread of sacrifice.  If “The Harvest” is a thanksgiving grace, it closes not with “Amen,” but “Lest We Forget.”
*This blog has previously posted on Alice Corbin (the name she signed to her poetry).  You can read more about her and her poem “Litany in the Desert” at this link

1 comment:

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