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The Sower’s Prayer

Now in the fields I’ve put the seed,
And, Lord, I’ve done my best indeed;
Look now with kindness, Father dear,
To all the little kernels here!

I could be singing, I suppose, for my neighbors in the middle of Cass County who have completed seeding--although perhaps not those who got hit with overland flooding from the Sheyenne River and may be in a prevent-plant situation. The words, however, come from a farmer named John F. Talcott of Westhope, North Dakota, in 1919.

I found his poem, “The Sower’s Dream,” four stanzas, on the front page of the Nonpartisan Leader of 30 June 1919. The Leader was the journalistic organ of the Nonpartisan League, North Dakota’s agrarian socialist movement within the Republican Party. Immigrant farmers--Republicans, but also passionate about farming as a godly way of life--were much attracted to the movement.

Which brings us back to Mr. Talcott, a Swedish immigrant farmer in Bottineau County. Born Johan Ferdinand Jönsson in Skåne in 1875, he came to America with his parents. They returned to the old country, while Johann took a homestead in Bottineau County and changed his name to John Ferdinand Talcott.

Talcott married Anna Carlson in 1902 (they would have eight children together) and proved up the homestead in 1906. They prospered: judging by newspaper notices, they were active in the community, and according to John’s draft registration, he waxed portly in prosperity.

Thus John Talcott’s affinity for the Nonpartisan League was not a sign of distress; rather it indicated his affection for farming as a way of life. His rhetoric, to my ear, is exceedingly Lutheran. His composition, I say from internal evidence, seems influenced by “The Cattle King’s Prayer,” which I have written about previously. I think also I perceive ties to the 1837 hymn, “On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist Cry,” especially as to the invocation of the Trinity in the final stanza. By 1919 Talcott was well acculturated and likely was familiar with English-language hymns. So I have been singing the poem to the hymnal tune.

Protect my fields from winds and frosts,
From every pest--the insect hosts.
Stay with thy hand the tempest’s hail;
Lord, grant my labors do not fail.

Give rugged health instead of gold,
For my whole fate your hands now hold.
My work, my home, in peace to live —
Is all I ask of you to give.

God — Father, Son and Holy Ghost —
Send rains when they are needed most,
But if my prayers selfish seem,
Lord, give to me as best you deem.

Looking backward, Talcott says his work is written, in his words, “After a Scandinavian Idea.” I haven't been able to pin down this reference. I suspect there is some concrete literary lineage there of which I am unaware; perhaps a listener of Swedish lineage can enlighten me.

For now, I know there are many Christian faithful on the prairies who either observe a blessing of the soil for Rogation Sunday or a blessing of the tractors at seeding time. Well, John Talcott and I have a hymn for you. Try it out.

Now in the fields I’ve put the seed,
And, Lord, I’ve done my best indeed.

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