One finds many odds and ends in Vaughan Williams' output, especially when perusing his large number of folk song arrangements. The Painful Plough is a simple folk song, but Vaughan Williams, rather than dressing it up -- something he could never do out of respect for the folk idiom -- fit it quite appropriately into his set of Eleven Folksongs for Schools, as No. 11. The whole set was published as Book 232 in Novello's School Songs and this item was No. 1138. Vaughan Williams scored all 11 for unison chorus and piano accompaniment.
The Painful Plough, marked Allegretto grazioso, is a lively, jaunty song, whose naïve joy and childlike naturalness are charming, if a bit corny. The song begins with the words, "Come all you jolly ploughmen of courage stout and bold/That labor all the winter in stormy winds and cold." Folk song mavens may notice that a few words are changed from the traditional text (e.g., "bold ploughin men" becomes "jolly ploughmen" here). The tune may be simple and Vaughan Williams' treatment of it straightforward, both in the vocal line and piano accompaniment, but the music will have undeniable appeal to fanciers of folk song. Was there ever another composer who would deign to perform such seemingly unrewarding tasks in so professional a manner?