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The Ploughboy

The cover of the sheet music for “The Ploughboy, A Rural Song” states that it was “composed and respectfully dedicated to John C. Mather (of Troy, New York) by H. K. Sweetland.” Mather worked as State Canal Commissioner during part of the enlargement of the Erie Canal, which took place between 1836 and 1862. The canal, which connected Lake Erie to the Hudson River, and thus New York City, led to the expansion of the growing and milling of wheat in western New York and Ohio. The construction of railroads further increased trade, shifting the growing of wheat out of New England and into the Midwest.

Despite the importance of wheat production to the region, the lithograph and lyrics included in the sheet music for “The Ploughboy” romanticize the labor of the farmer as solitary, joyous, and easy. The picture focuses on the rolling, picturesque landscape, dotted with cattle and surrounding a body of water, and relegates the work of the farmer to the left middle ground.

Unknown lithographer, Cover: “The Ploughboy, A Rural Song,” 1848. Lithographed sheet music cover, Sheet size: (10 1/8 x 13 1/4 in). Image size: (5 3/8 x 4 1/8 in). Published by W. H. Oakes, Boston.
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Unknown lithographer, Two details from: “The Ploughboy, A Rural Song,” 1848. Lithographed sheet music cover, Sheet size: (10 1/8 x 13 1/4 in). Image size: (5 3/8 x 4 1/8 in). Published by W. H. Oakes, Boston.
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The lyrics, in first person, poetically describe the course of his day, in which he gladly hurries to start work, whistles while his plow effortlessly slices through the field, and dreams of tilling at night:

Tis sunrise now / On the mountain’s brow, / And the air is cool and clear,
And who would dream / In the morning’s beam, / When beautiful spring is near;
I’ll hasten with speed / To the glit’ring mead, / Where the mists are gather’d now,
They will pass away, / As opens the day, / As speeds the looming plough,
They will pass away, / As opens the day, / As speeds the looming plough.

The lark is high / In the clear blue sky, / And he carols wild and free,
He has left his nest / On the meadow’s breast, / In the sunlight of heav’n to be;
I cannot fly / To the clear blue sky, / Or carol so wild and free,
But I’ll whistle so clear / That the skies shall hear, / As my plough glides o’er the lea.
But I’ll whistle so clear / That the skies shall hear, / As my plough glides o’er the lea.

And when the day / Shall have pass’d away, / And the sun have sunk in the sea,
I’ll take my team / From the strong plough beam, / And hasten away o’er the lea;
And then at night / When my heart is light, / And sleep stealeth o’er my brow,
I’ll lie and dream / Of my field and team, / And of guiding the farmer’s plough.
I’ll lie and dream / Of my field and team, / And of guiding the farmer’s plough.

 


 

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