Souter Johnnie's Cottage

The Bachelors' Club

A Short History of Robert Burns

Death and Doctor Hornbook

Tam O'Shanter

John Barleycorn→

Kirk Alloway

On the late Captain Grose’s Peregrinations

'The Antiquities of Scotland' by Captain Grose

John Barleycorn

A Ballad

Burns based this ballad on a old song, extending and modifying the old wording. Brave John Barleycorn is an amusing human representation of  the spirit of the barley corn which (who) is constantly being knocked down (ploughing, threshing, malting, etc.) but keeps bravely getting up, finally ending up in malt whisky (or ale).


THERE was three kings into the east,
Three kings both great and high,
And they ha'e sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn should die.

They took a plough and ploughed him down,
Put clods upon his head,
An' they ha'e sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn was dead.

But the cheerful Spring came kindly on,
And showers began to fall;
John Barleycorn got up again,
And sore surprised them all.

The sultry suns of Summer came,
And he grew thick and strong;
His head weel armed wi’ pointed spears,
That no one should him wrong.

The sober Autumn entered mild,
When he grew wan and pale;
His bending joints and drooping head
Show’d he began to fail.

His colour sickened more and more,
He faded into age;
And then his enemies began
To show their deadly rage.

They’ve ta'en a weapon, long and sharp,
And cut him by the knee;
Then tied him fast upon a cart,
Like a rogue for forgerie.

They laid him down upon his back,
And cudgelled him full sore;
They hung him up before the storm,
And turned him o’er and o’er.

They filled up a darksome pit
With water to the brim;
They heaved in John Barleycorn,
There let him sink or swim.

They laid him out upon the floor,
To work him farther woe;
And still, as signs of life appear’d,
They tossed him to and fro.

They wasted, o’er a scorching flame,
The marrow of his bones;
But a miller used him worst of all,
For he crushed him between two stones.

And they ha'e ta'en his very heart’s blood,
And drank it round and round;
And still the more and more they drank,
Their joy did more abound.

John Barleycorn was a hero bold,
Of noble enterprise;
For if you do but taste his blood,
’Twill make your courage rise.

’Twill make a man forget his woe;
’Twill heighten all his joy;
’Twill make the widow’s heart to sing,
Though the tear were in her eye.

Then let us toast John Barleycorn,
Each man a glass in hand;
And may his great posterity
Ne’er fail in old Scotland!

 

 References:

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The Scots Dialect Dictionary - compiled by Alexander Warrack MA

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The Complete Poetical Works of Robert Burns with an appreciation by Lord Rosebery. 1902 - published by Thomas Nelson & Sons, Ltd.

 


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