Scripture Verse

The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few. Matthew 9:37


Ellen M. Gates (1835–1920)

Words: Ell­en M. H. Gates, 1860. Com­pare What Can I Do?

Music: Beech­er John Zun­del, Chris­tian Heart Songs 1870 (🔊 pdf nwc).

Alternate Tunes:

If you know where to get a good pho­to of Zun­del (head & shoul­ders, at least 200×300 pix­els),

The Gleaners
Jean-François Millet (1814–1875)

Origin of the Hymn

The lines were writ­ten up­on my slate one snowy af­ter­noon in the win­ter of 1860. I knew, as I know now, that the po­em was on­ly a sim­ple lit­tle thing, but some­how I had a pre­sen­ti­ment that it had wings and would fly in­to sor­row­ful hearts, up­lift­ing and strength­en­ing them.


If you can­not, on the ocean,
Sail among the swift­est fleet,
Rocking on the high­est bil­lows,
Laughing at the storms you meet,
You can stand among the sail­ors,
Anchored yet with­in the bay,
You can lend a hand to help them,
As they launch their boats away.

If you are too weak to jour­ney
Up the mount­ain steep and high,
You can stand with­in the val­ley,
While the mul­ti­tudes go by;
You can chant in hap­py mea­sure,
As they slow­ly pass along;
Though they may for­get the sing­er,
They will not for­get the song.

If you have not gold and sil­ver
Ever rea­dy to com­mand;
If you can­not to­ward the needy
Reach an ev­er op­en hand;
You can vi­sit the af­flict­ed,
O’er the err­ing you can weep;
You can be a true dis­ci­ple,
Sitting at the Sav­ior’s feet.

If you can­not, in the con­flict
Prove your­self a soldier true,
If, where fire and smoke are thick­est,
There’s no work for you to do;
When the batt­le­field is si­lent,
You can go with care­ful tread,
You can bear away the wound­ed,
You can cov­er up the dead.

If you can­not, in the har­vest,
Gather up the riche­st sheaves,
Many a grain both ripe and gold­en
Oft the care­less reap­er leaves;
Go and glean among the bri­ars
Growing rank against the wall,
For it may be that their sha­dow
Hides the hea­vi­est wheat of all.

Do not, then, stand id­ly wait­ing,
For some great­er work to do;
Fortune is a lazy god­dess,
She will ne­ver come to you.
Go and toil in any vine­yard,
Do not fear to do or dare,
If you want a field of la­bor,
You can find it any­where.