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John Barleycorn

by Robert Burns

A Ballad

There was three kings into the east,
Three kings both great and high;
An' they hae swore a solemn oath
John Barleycorn should die.

They took a plough and plough'd him down,
Put clods upon his head;
And they hae swore 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 shew 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 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 'tween 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,
'T will make your courage rise.

'T will make a man forget his woe;
'T will heighten all his joy:
'T will 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!


Notes to the poem:

This is modernised from an English original, well known to lovers of old ballad poetry. The original was first printed in "Jameson's Ballads." Various versions of it current over the country have been printed since.


Source:

The Poetical Works Of Robert Burns
Copyright 1910
Ward, Lock, and Co., Ltd