John Barleycorn

Album: John Barleycorn Must Die (1970)
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  • There were three men came out of the West,
    Their fortunes for to try,
    And these three men made a solemn vow
    John Barleycorn must die.

    They've ploughed, they've sewn, they've harrowed him in,
    Threw clods at Barley's head,
    And these three men made a solemn vow
    John Barleycorn was dead.

    They've let him lie for a very long time,
    Till the rains from heaven did fall,
    And little Sir John sprung up his head,
    And so amazed them all.

    They've let him stand till midsummer's day,
    Till he looked both pale and worn,
    And little Sir John's grown a long, long beard,
    And so become a man.

    They've hired men with the scythes so sharp,
    To cut him off at the knee,
    They've rolled him and tied him by the waist,
    Servin' him most barbarously.

    They've hired men with the sharp pitchforks,
    Who pricked him to the heart,
    And the loader he has served him worse than that,
    For he's bound him to the cart

    They've wheeled him around and around the field,
    Till they came unto a barn,
    And there they made a solemn oath,
    On poor John Barleycorn.

    They've hired men with the crab-tree sticks,
    To cut him skin from bone,
    And the miller he has served him worse than that,
    For he's ground him between two stones.

    And little Sir John and the nut-brown bowl,
    And he's brandy in the glass
    And little Sir John and the nut-brown bowl,
    Proved the strongest man at last.

    The huntsman, he can't hunt the fox,
    Nor so loudly to blow his horn,
    And the tinker he can't mend kettle nor pots,
    Without a little Barleycorn Writer/s: Steve Winwood
    Publisher: Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.
    Lyrics licensed and provided by LyricFind

Comments: 5

  • Jeff from Pittsburgh, PaAccording to Steve Winwood: "Of course, the title track of 'John Barleycorn' was an English folk song which was sometimes called 'The Passion of the Corn.' And it's a parallel with the passion of Christ and the rural cycle. The winter, the land being dormant, and then the corn growing, rising, being cut off, being ground between stones, and being mistreated, eventually rising again in the form of alcohol or bread. And it was called historically 'The Passion of the Corn.'"
    [BBC Four Documentary, "Steve Winwood: English Soul", 2010; 40:35-41:21]
  • Noriko from Phoenix, AzI see, the lyrics really had a deep meaning and and you can really feel the essence of the song.
  • Randy from Las Vegas, NvThe song came from a poem by Robert Burns written in 1782.
    John Barleycorn: A Ballad
    Robert Burns (1782)
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    There was three kings into the east,
    Three kings both great and high,
    And they hae sworn a solemn oath
    John Barleycorn should die.

    They took a plough and plough'd him down,
    Put clods upon his head,
    And they hae sworn a solemn oath
    John Barleycorn was dead.

    But the cheerful Spring came kindly on,
    And show'rs began to fall;
    John Barleycorn got up again,
    And sore surpris'd them all.

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

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

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

    They've taen 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 cudgell'd 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 toss'd him to and fro.

    They wasted, o'er a scorching flame,
    The marrow of his bones;
    But a miller us'd him worst of all,
    For he crush'd him between two stones.

    And they hae taen 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,
    Tho' 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!

    clr gif

    Back to the index > Poems by Robert Burns
    Profile of the author > Scottish bard Robert Burns
  • Nathan from Jackson, TnThis song is NOT from the Old West. It's an English folksong detailing the life of John Barleycorn. It's a pagan representation of the Mabon ritual.
  • Joshua from La Crosse, WiJethro Tull has also been known to perform this song in concert, such as on their live album A Little Light Music.
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