This song is about feeling joyous, but knowing that the joy is going to end someday. Sting wrote it after he bought a house near a barley field. The sunsets and the colors of the field were an inspiration for the lyrics, along with his love at the time, Trudie Styler, who he married in 1992. Styler has said that the song is one of her favorites.
The major theme in this is commitment. It is about a man who has broken promises before, but is determined make this relationship last.
The story is chronological. It is about courtship, marriage, and eventual death. The two people in the song meet, court, fall in love (at this point, he reveals that he has never really made such a strong promise/commitment to someone) but feels he is ready to now. "See the children run," their offspring and the "jealous sky" refer to the Heavens. Even Heaven is jealous of their love/relationship. The esteemed sun is jealous. Eventually, he dies and tells his love that they will always remember their love specifically, when she thinks of him, he wants to be personified as such... walking in fields of gold (barley).
Sting started writing this on the guitar. He thinks his simple songs are often his best, and uses this as an example.
The album title is a play on Sting's real name, Gordon Sumner, as well as a reference to The Canterbury Tales. In the book, which was written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the 1400s, people from different backgrounds each tell stories, including tales by a nun, a miller, a knight, and a summoner. A summoner was someone who summoned a person for the king or some formal function. Like the book, Sting thought the album was a collection of songs that told many different tales.
Eva Cassidy did a popular cover of this song that the US figure skater Michelle Kwan skated to at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
In Lyrics By Sting, the singer described the view from his sixteenth-century manor house: "In England, our house is surrounded by barley fields, and in the summer it's fascinating to watch the wind moving over the shimmering surface, like waves on an ocean of gold. There's something inherently sexy about the sight, something primal, as if the wind were making love to the barley. Lovers have made promises here, I'm sure, their bonds strengthened by the comforting cycle of the seasons."
"Fields of Gold" is also the title of Sting's 1994 hits compilation.
Along with many songs by The Police, this was featured in The Office (US) episode "Phyllis' Wedding" in 2007. It was also used on The Sopranos episode "Full Leather Jacket" in 2000.
Audiences have taken to swaying like the barley fields in the breeze when Sting performs this, which annoys the singer to no end. He told Mojo in 1995: "It's disconcerting. But you can't stop them, can you? Oi! Stop that f---ing shite!"
Of the lyric "So she took her love for to gaze awhile upon the fields of barley," Sting told interviewer Daniel Rachel (The Art of Noise: Conversations with Great Songwriters): "I'm using poetic license to alter syntax. I wanted to create a timeless idea that the song could have been written in the sixteenth century."