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Origins: Meaning of John Barleycorn

DigiTrad:
JOHN BARLEYCORN
JOHN BARLEYCORN (2)
JOHN BARLEYCORN, MY JO
JOHN BARLEYCORN: A BALLAD


Related threads:
John Barleycorn Recipe (7)
Obit: John Barleycorn (34)
Lyr/Chords Req: The Barleycorn (from The Johnstons (18)
Lyr Add: John Barleycorn (Jon Berger, Stan Rogers) (9)
Tune Req: John Barleycorn - John Renbourn Group (1)
Tune Req: The Barleycorn (Ron Kavana) (17)
Tune Req: Hey John Barleycorn (Davey Arthur?) (3)
John Barleycorn 'Two Brothers' version (5)
(origins) Origins: John Barleycorn Must Die (27)
Lyr Req: Barleycorn (Songwainers) (31)
John Barleycorn in USA? (6)
Folklore: Odd Minstrel Song = John Barleycorn (?) (7)
Lyr Req: J. Barleycorn/Weploughthefields&scatter (4)
Lyr Req: John Barleycorn (13)
Illustrated John BarleyCorn (3)
Chords Req: John Barleycorn (32)
Lyr Req: John Barleycorn (3) (closed)
Penguin: John Barleycorn (15)
Tune Req: The Barleycorn (Ron Kavana) (14)
Tune Req: John Barleycorn (from Traffic) (11)
John Barleycorn (11)


Marion 01 Nov 99 - 12:28 AM
SeanM 01 Nov 99 - 01:10 AM
AndyG 01 Nov 99 - 07:10 AM
GeorgeH 01 Nov 99 - 12:23 PM
selby 01 Nov 99 - 01:23 PM
GUEST 14 Aug 04 - 02:43 AM
GUEST,jamezquita2002@yahoo.com 18 Sep 04 - 08:23 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 18 Sep 04 - 09:54 PM
pdq 18 Sep 04 - 10:06 PM
Thomas the Rhymer 18 Sep 04 - 10:24 PM
Malcolm Douglas 18 Sep 04 - 10:44 PM
GUEST,John 04 Dec 04 - 08:54 AM
Ed. 04 Dec 04 - 03:20 PM
Cluin 04 Dec 04 - 03:26 PM
Malcolm Douglas 04 Dec 04 - 05:18 PM
GUEST,Dan 27 Apr 05 - 06:35 AM
Joe Offer 27 Apr 05 - 02:55 PM
GUEST,Liz 24 Jun 05 - 03:15 PM
GUEST,Tsotolbichay 27 Nov 05 - 06:51 PM
GUEST,Rockmusichater 28 Nov 05 - 05:10 AM
GUEST,Dave Crutcher 28 Nov 05 - 10:54 AM
GUEST,samit 02 Dec 05 - 05:11 AM
Roger in Baltimore 02 Dec 05 - 10:20 AM
GUEST,Nathaniel in South Carolina 08 Dec 05 - 07:38 PM
Tattie Bogle 08 Dec 05 - 07:53 PM
GUEST,Ozzyishere 13 Jan 06 - 11:44 PM
GUEST 16 Sep 06 - 07:13 AM
Dave'sWife 17 Sep 06 - 12:11 PM
Helen 17 Sep 06 - 04:35 PM
GUEST,Mike 29 Nov 06 - 07:40 PM
Greg B 29 Nov 06 - 10:39 PM
The Sandman 30 Nov 06 - 05:11 AM
MartinRyan 30 Nov 06 - 06:20 AM
Scrump 30 Nov 06 - 06:39 AM
Malcolm Douglas 30 Nov 06 - 07:34 PM
RTim 30 Nov 06 - 08:15 PM
Scrump 01 Dec 06 - 05:34 AM
GUEST,Richard 01 Dec 06 - 07:32 AM
OtherDave 01 Dec 06 - 09:24 AM
Scrump 01 Dec 06 - 10:20 AM
McGrath of Harlow 01 Dec 06 - 12:44 PM
GUEST,Jack Campin 01 Dec 06 - 01:40 PM
GUEST,Jason 12 Dec 06 - 03:06 AM
Ruth Archer 12 Dec 06 - 03:20 AM
Scrump 12 Dec 06 - 04:11 AM
GUEST,Dave 02 Dec 07 - 10:16 PM
TheSnail 02 Dec 07 - 10:49 PM
Jack Blandiver 03 Dec 07 - 05:00 AM
GUEST,TJ in San Diego 03 Dec 07 - 11:24 AM
GUEST,Jim Carroll 04 Dec 07 - 03:25 AM
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Subject: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: Marion
Date: 01 Nov 99 - 12:28 AM

Hello folks. I'm trying to understand the overall plot of the song "John Barleycorn" (in the DT).

Is it simply about the raising and brewing of barley? Or is a more complicated plot about men trying to overcome the power of beer and failing (i.e. they bury the barley in an attempt to get rid of it, but it grows in spite of them etc.)?

Hope someone can help, thanks, Marion


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: SeanM
Date: 01 Nov 99 - 01:10 AM

It's actually the Harvest legend. John Barleycorn represents the spirit of the Barley, grown strong over the summer, cut down in his prime, ground and brewed into beer where he lives again.

JB is central to most agrarian cultures in some form or another, much the same as the Green Man is... The specific form that most people seem to know today is generally either an English or German incarnation.

So to answer the question, "John Barleycorn" is a metaphor of several levels... it's a metaphor for the growing and harvesting of the barley, it's a metaphor of sorts for the harvest cycle, and some feel that it's also a metaphor for life itself.

Hope this helps...

M


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: AndyG
Date: 01 Nov 99 - 07:10 AM

John Barleycorn is a song of celebration;
It celebrates the very existance of beer !
It celebrates the success of the harvest and it celebrates the conclusion of the farming year, when John's health is drunk in his own blood.
A nice irony, I think.

It is structured like many of the "farming year" songs, giving the history of the harvest, and the destiny of the the produce.

I think the song has been turned to a temperance message later in its life,
compare
He bids the troubled heart rejoice,
Gives warmth to Nature's call,
Makes weak men strong and old men young
And all men brave and bold.

He'll turn a boy into a man
A man into an ass
To silver he will turn your gold
Your silver into brass

AndyG


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: GeorgeH
Date: 01 Nov 99 - 12:23 PM

It's about whatever you choose to see it as being about . . why seek to tie it down??

And as for where it ends up; I particularly relish the version:

"The drunkard served him worst of all

and pissed him against the wall"

If anyone wants to investigate this further, there was a thread about this recently on uk.music.folk which I'm sure folks could find on DejaNews . . That also pointed at the wide variety of versions of the song.

Regards

George


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: selby
Date: 01 Nov 99 - 01:23 PM

I agree with George especially when the song is sung at full tilt by the WILSONS Keith


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: GUEST
Date: 14 Aug 04 - 02:43 AM

Not to mention it's another telling of the reborn savior story. Think of Osiris who was hacked in to peitces and resurected for the benifit of us all, or Christ who was cut and pierced and killed and was resurected to save us all (which is even morso if your catholic bacause we drink of christs blood [as wine] and eat of his body [as bread], so to is john barlycorn drunk [as ale] and eaten [as bread]) Its the country dweller version of christ.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: GUEST,jamezquita2002@yahoo.com
Date: 18 Sep 04 - 08:23 PM

in what contex does AA use JB?


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 18 Sep 04 - 09:54 PM

Trivia-
Pepys mentioned the ballad (Library, 1620)- "A pleasant new ballad of the murther of Sir John Barleycorn."
Barli corn appeared in print in the 1380s.

In measure, a barleycorn is one-third of an inch. 1607- "It is ordained that three Barly Cornes dry and round shall make up the measure of an inch.

The lyrics of JOHN BARLEYCORN (2) ('the hero bold) in the DT lack the last verse common to many of the the 19th c. broadsides:

Then shout for great John Barleycorn,
Nor heed the luscious wine,
I've not the mind much charm to find
In potent draught of wine.
Give me my native nut brown ale,
All other drinks I scorn,
True English cheer is English beer,
Our own John Barleycorn.

Harding B11 (1509), 1863-1865; and others, mid-19th c. Bodleian Collection.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: pdq
Date: 18 Sep 04 - 10:06 PM

Whatever the song meant in 1620 was lost on the members of Traffic.

Their version "John Barleycorn Must Die" was a declaration by pot smokers that drinking was passe and that pot was part of the New Order.

Loggins and Messina did "Don't Sing Anything Mellow After Whiskey" where they made the same point but were more blunt and confrontational about it.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: Thomas the Rhymer
Date: 18 Sep 04 - 10:24 PM

Is that what they mean't by "the nut brown bowl"? Gosh, thanks for clearing that up for us pdq... ;^)

I like the tune and chording that traffic turned... but I sing a different version of the lyrics... Burnsish... IYKWIM. I don't drink or toke, so it's the middle ground for me...

Cheerio! ttr


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 18 Sep 04 - 10:44 PM

I don't know what Traffic intended, but they simply recorded an arrangement of the set published in the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. See the many more recent discussions here (links above) for further information: as usual, somebody has dragged back from the long forgotten past the only thread that didn't contain the wee bit of "information" they wanted to add.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: GUEST,John
Date: 04 Dec 04 - 08:54 AM

Judging by the Traffic version of the lyrics, (which is what we're discussing here) and the tone of their song, the inflection and overall mood of the song. I feel they are expressing their fear and obsession of alcohol. Where barley is almost worshiped and cultivated in our lives, yet has a dark side, almost tyrannical effect on our lives. Just like getting drunk, we start out happy and joyous, only to be depressed, drunken, and sick. No matter how much you enjoy drinking, anyone who has done it for more than a little time has to admit that sooner or later the oppressive factor in drinking catches up with you.

I love the drink. I miss the drink. Yet I'm better off without it.

After the first drink all bets are off, John Barleycorn has taken over:

"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 or pots without a little barleycorn"

Love On Ya All


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: Ed.
Date: 04 Dec 04 - 03:20 PM

Guest John,

Whilst there is nothing wrong with making your own interprtation of a song to help you through bad times (I've done it many times myself), your own interpretation isn't what the song originally meant.

Good luck with the drink problem.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: Cluin
Date: 04 Dec 04 - 03:26 PM

Judging by the traffic on this thread, it seems people might get lost in privately researching the different subjects touched upon here and groggily forget to check back for a while.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 04 Dec 04 - 05:18 PM

It's a very old thread that time had passed by; very little has been said here that wasn't later improved on in the large number of more recent discussions listed above.

I'd repeat that there is no "Traffic version of the lyrics"; they simply recorded a straight arrangement of the song printed in "Penguin", without making any noticeable changes.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: GUEST,Dan
Date: 27 Apr 05 - 06:35 AM

Sometimes people get cought up in what something is supposed to mean. The song I know is done by Traffic. The medly is very beautiful. I have seen Traffic preform this song a few times and I am still spellbound by it. Trying to define something that sounds beautiful can turn you off to something very wonderful. Drink a good beer and smoke a joint and kick back. It really is a good song. For those of you that can't drink well then don't.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: Joe Offer
Date: 27 Apr 05 - 02:55 PM

Fiona Ritchie played a version of "John Barleycorn" on Thistle and Shamrock. She explained that the song was not about blood and gore, but rather about the brewing of ale.
I wondered whether the explanation was necessary. It seems to me that this is one song that shouldn't have an explanation.
-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: GUEST,Liz
Date: 24 Jun 05 - 03:15 PM

How many versions are there?


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: GUEST,Tsotolbichay
Date: 27 Nov 05 - 06:51 PM

emmm I haven't heard the original version, but the one sung by traffic is actually about brewing beer. The tune sounds good, and once analyzed for the first time, it sounds like medieval methods of torturing and killing a man.

They hired men with their scythes so sharp
To cut him off at the knee;
They rolled him and tied him around the waist,
And served him barbarously.

They hired men with their sharp pitchforks
To pierce him to the heart,
But the loader did serve him worse than that,
For he bound him to the cart.

John Barleycorn in the traffic song is the personification of barley and the process used to plant, harvest and brew the barley for beer.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: GUEST,Rockmusichater
Date: 28 Nov 05 - 05:10 AM

Who the hell are 'Traffic' and why should I care?


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: GUEST,Dave Crutcher
Date: 28 Nov 05 - 10:54 AM

Like all the best artworks, it's about something very basic (the brewing of beer), at the same time something deep & esoteric (death & renewal). Local and historical-specific traditions get grafted on, much like the Dionysus myths of classical & pre-classical Greece, where specific tensions are played out, such as political & religious power changes (cf. later Temperance Society type interpretations). That's what I think anyway, for what it's worth - enjoy the song & find your own special meanings!


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: GUEST,samit
Date: 02 Dec 05 - 05:11 AM

love the song
love the drink
look forward to many reincarnations of john b
cheers


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: Roger in Baltimore
Date: 02 Dec 05 - 10:20 AM

Rockmusichater,

Though you're question may not be seeking an answer, Traffic was an English rock group which included Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, and Chris Wood.

They were not a particularly "folk-based" rock trio. The song John Barleycorn indicates that folk music continues to influence other genres. I particularly enjoy this particular version of the song.

Roger in Baltimore


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: GUEST,Nathaniel in South Carolina
Date: 08 Dec 05 - 07:38 PM

There's a folk group from Thailand called Caravan (the V pronounced as a W), and they do a song called "Jit Pumisak" which uses different lyrics over Traffic's melody used in John Barleycorn.

Jit Pumisak was a leftist scholar and activist who was killed in 1965 by Thai soldiers after joining an armed struggle in the Northeast of Thailand. The lyrics are translated below:

He fell at the edge of the forest
His blood soaked the troubled land
A land impoverished and bleak.
(repeat)

On the day he came
Down from the mountains,
Under the giant eagle's shadow.
His killers were gleeful.
His death brought good fortune:
Promotion, four stars and many stripes.

As a shooting star falls,
So fell his life.
But how long can we expect to live?
Ten rich men
For each hundred thousand poor,
A shame between heaven and earth.
But his lot was cast
On the side of the poor,
Speaking out all he had seen.
Prison may hold his body,
But never his hopes,
Determined to struggle for justice

His path blocked and twisted
By traitorous rulers,
So many like him were destroyed.
In the year of 1965*
Dark clouds blocked the sky
With the spell of the giant eagle

He left home and village
For guerrilla life in the jungle,

A life of unending risks.
In May of 1966
Sun and shadow fled.
On a oxcart path he died.

This body, this body is Jit Pumisak
He died where town and jungle meet.
He died at the edge of the forest,
His red blood soaking into
The northeastern soil.
Its red color will last on and on.

He did not die in vain;
His name steadily grows.
The people still learn from his thoughts.
Jit Pumisak, thinker and writer,
Has become a candle
Giving light to humanity.

* 1965 = year Thai government declared it would "wipe out the communists within three years."


I don't think Caravan's cover of the Traffic song has much, if anything to do with the traditional John Barleycorn ballad, but I find the fact that they chose that song as a template to be fascinating in itself.

To hear the song, you can download a Real Audio version here:
http://www.seasite.niu.edu/Thai/music/song4life/jit_pumisak.htm

Sorry for the length, hope someone else finds this interesting.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: Tattie Bogle
Date: 08 Dec 05 - 07:53 PM

I love the version done by "Steeleye Span". Then there's another tune (version to the hymn tine of "All good gifts around us" - a harvest hymn) by Fairport Convention on their Cropredy Festival CDs.
AND there is also the Robert Burns "John Barleycorn" which can be recited or sung. When recited it is traditional for the reciter - and all assembled company - to raise a toast to John Barleycorn every time his name is mentioned - which happens at least 6 times in the course of the poem! Bon Carleyjorn!!
TB


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: GUEST,Ozzyishere
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 11:44 PM

This song relates to the times of which there were often temperance movements to wipe out the production and use of alcoholic beverages.
One must understand that drunkeness was an onogin problem. Most people (peasants) could not read or write, thus they (the masses) could be a political threat. They were always hungry, with scurvay and usually drunk.

It was considered a serious vice of the peasants and as such could be a threat to the power (feudal lords)and the King.

Only noblemen should have the rights and power of such brew.

Traffic has the ultimate version of this ballad...


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: GUEST
Date: 16 Sep 06 - 07:13 AM

There's a line of thought that this song is linked to the 'corn king' myth which appears in a lot of cultures, that a man was chosen by a country community, treated like a king for a year and then sacrificed at harvest and his body dragged through the harvest fields to put his blood on the land and give it life for the next year. The idea of making Kern dolls which were kept for a year and then ploughed into the fields at harvest or burned, and replaced with a doll from the new harvest is possibly a later version of the custom. Again it's based on the idea of death giving life, and tied in a lot with the Green Man mythology. The current Wicker Man remake is based on this. The words for the hymn 'now the green blade riseth' also links a lot between the Christian idea of death and renewal and the pagan harvest beliefs.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: Dave'sWife
Date: 17 Sep 06 - 12:11 PM

Guest above is refering the the "Year King" motif in mythology.

Wikipedia has quite a good entry on the subject as does the Fantasy Encyclopedia. the latter refers to The Year King theme in literature. if you are at all interested in the fertility themes of the song, you'd enjoy reading about this.

Here's a link to Wikipedi'as article.

Sacred King/Year King

This topic has come up from time to time in threads, most recently in a discussion comparing the original WICKERMAN to the recent subpar remake which removes the Year King motif.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: Helen
Date: 17 Sep 06 - 04:35 PM

Marion, near the beginning of this thread, and Guest 16 Sep 06 - 07:13 AM both tell the same sort of interpretation that I heard when I was at school. Marion said that John Barleycorn is reincarnated in beer, but in fact, the reincarnation is through the planting of the seeds to grow the next season's crops, to start the cycle all over again. The king is dead, long live the king.

Helen


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: GUEST,Mike
Date: 29 Nov 06 - 07:40 PM

This is all so very fascinating!

GOD!

I just love the song... Whether its about beer, barley, or pot... It's friggin' trippy and HOT...

Cheers

Mike


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: Greg B
Date: 29 Nov 06 - 10:39 PM

It's the CIR-cle...the circle of life...

(Either that or we all wind up as piss, one or t'other.)


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: The Sandman
Date: 30 Nov 06 - 05:11 AM

john barleycorn has nothing to do with smoking marijuana.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: MartinRyan
Date: 30 Nov 06 - 06:20 AM

HCE surely

Regards


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: Scrump
Date: 30 Nov 06 - 06:39 AM

john barleycorn has nothing to do with smoking marijuana

Agreed. Does the Traffic version say anything that implies this theory given above, i.e. they are advocating consumption of 'pot' instead of ale? I don't have the album so I can't check one way or the other.

(To answer a query above, Traffic was a 1960s band formed whose members included Steve Winwood, Dave Mason and Jim Capaldi. They had a few hits in the UK including Hole in my Shoe, and Paper Sun, and their music was what was called psychedelic in those days)

Yes, there are lots of different versions and tunes as with many old songs.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 30 Nov 06 - 07:34 PM

Must I repeat, every time this thread is dragged back out of the grave, that there is no 'Traffic version' of the song? They merely recorded an arrangement, as I have said before and will doubtless have to say again, of Shadrack 'Shepherd' Hayden's version as published in The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.

It is a "version" only in the same way that Benjamin Britten's arrangement of 'The Foggy Dew' is a "version" of that song. It is quite nice to listen to, but can tell us nothing whatever about what the song "means".

If you seek meaning, then read the other threads (see links above), many of which have far better information than is to be found here. Better still, read Peter Wood's paper, 'John Barleycorn: The Evolution of a Folk-song Family' in The Folk Music Journal (Volume 8 Number 4 2004), which traces its development through various forms from its first appearance in the 16th century.


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Subject: ADD Version: John Barleycorn
From: RTim
Date: 30 Nov 06 - 08:15 PM

On the WGBH/PBS programme "Sound & Spirit" this weekend they played a version of Barleycorn as an example of a "Death & Resurrection" song - but I don't think of it as such a song - It's a clever story about Beer!
I recorded a version on my CD that was an amalgam of two versions from the south of England - from Mr. Miller of Wootten Fitzpaine.

JOHN BARLEYCORN.

Two hired men came from the north,
their victory to try
And they did make a solemn vow
John Barleycorn should die.
        Chorus:
        To me rite fol dol the diddle lol the day
        To me rite fol the diddle dol the dey.

They ploughed the ground & harrowed him in,
threw clods upon his head
Then they did both rejoice & sing,
John Barleycorn is dead.

There he lay all underground, till rain on him did fall
Then Barleycorn sprung up again & so he done 'em all.

There he stood till midsummer, till he grew pale & wan
And Barleycorn he grew a long beard & so became a man.

They hired men with scythes so sharp to cut him off at knee
And the women with their forks & rakes they used him bitterly.

They hired men with prongs so sharp
to stab him to the heart,
And like a thief or felon, they did bind him to a cart.

They wheeled him round & round the fields
till they came to a barn
And there they made a mow of him
to keep him from all harm.

Then hired men with long staffs came
To beat him skin from bone,
But the miller he served him worst than that
For he ground him between two stones.

Put brandy in a keg, me boys, put cider in a can,
But Barleycorn in an old brown bowl
will floor the strongest man.

He'll turn your gold to silver, your silver into brass,
He'll make a boy become a man, and a man become an ass.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: Scrump
Date: 01 Dec 06 - 05:34 AM

To Malcolm Douglas - I don't want to get into an argument about whether Traffic did a 'version' of the song John Barleycorn or just an 'arrangment' of it. If you want to use the word 'arrangment' then fine by me.

I simply asked whether there was anything in their recorded 'arrangement' of the song that indicated what others have claimed above, i.e. that it was advocating the use of 'pot' or marijuana instead of ale or beer. If , as you say, the song is purely an arrangement of the Penguin Book of Folk Songs song, then I don't see how the above claims can be true.

Can you or anyone else substantiate the above claims? All I want to know is what is the basis for this theory. If I had the record I could listen to it and probably draw my own conclusions; but I don't, so I can't.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: GUEST,Richard
Date: 01 Dec 06 - 07:32 AM

For information, Steve Winwood was/is a fan of the Watersons, and the Traffic version is learned from them.
Richard


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: OtherDave
Date: 01 Dec 06 - 09:24 AM

Robin Laing of Edinburgh sings Burns' version on The Angels' Share (Greentrax CD, 1999):

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!


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: Scrump
Date: 01 Dec 06 - 10:20 AM

Hmmm, sounds very similar to this old one learnt from the Kippers:

There were three men came from the East
Their fortunes for to try
And these three men they made a vow
Joan Sugarbeet should die
They ploughed, they sowed, they dug her in
Threw clods upon her head
And these three men they made a vow
Joan Sugarbeet was dead

They let her lie for a very long time
Till the rain from heaven did fall
Then little lady Joan sprung up her head
And soon amazed them all
They let her stand till midwinter
Till she looked both fat and green
And little Lady Joan she grew a big fat arse
And so became a Queen

They hir-ed men with hands so strong
To pull her out of bed
They cut her in half around the waist
And threw away her head
They hir-ed men with sharp pitchforks
Who piled her by the road
But the driver he served her worse than that
For he threw her upon his load

They rolled her along and along the road
Till at Cantley they did meet
And there they made a great high stack
Of poor Joan Sugarbeet
They hired men with choppers so huge
To chop her into bits
And the Sugar Works served her worse than that
For they drowned her in a pit

Here's to little Lady Joan in a china cup
And lumps all in a bowl
And little Lady Joan in the china cup
She proved the sweeter girl
For the office boy can't balance his books
Nor keep his desk so neat
And the housewife can't enjoy her tea
Without Joan Sugarbeet


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 01 Dec 06 - 12:44 PM

Then there is John Kirkpatrick's reworking of John Barleycorn into Old King Coal

...So they scratched him, hacked him, and harried him out
They ripped him from his bed
And they blasted his bones asunder
They'd sworn to see him dead.
Then they carried him out to the sun's bright light
Which blinded him in the eye,
And the blood did drain from every vein
Until they'd drained him dry....


The rest of the song is down that thread.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: GUEST,Jack Campin
Date: 01 Dec 06 - 01:40 PM

I have recently been playing with a Middle Eastern music group, and last week one of us came up with a song in Persian to words by Rumi. The poet says that he is so drunk (with divine love) that if someone were to grow wheat on his grave and try to bake bread from it, the bread would turn to alcohol which would not only intoxicate anyone who ate it, the oven itself would get drunk and dance.

Which sounds like it has to have been derived from some version of John Barleycorn current in
mediaeval Persian/Anatolian culture.

There are quite a lot of just-pre-Islamic songs about drink in Arabic, anyone know them and know if there's a John Barleycorn in there?


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: GUEST,Jason
Date: 12 Dec 06 - 03:06 AM

Amazing that this thread is seven years old and only very few have even a clue.

The song is simply a clever or witty tale detailing the stages of growing barley for making alcohol.

Its a personification. Its not all that deep. Just entertaining.

The Traffic song is great too.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: Ruth Archer
Date: 12 Dec 06 - 03:20 AM

My ex-mother-in-law was at school with Steve Winwood, but unfortunately she never gleaned whether his "arrangement" of John Barleycorn was about pot or not, because they were 5 at the time and he tried to kiss her but then wet himself. She never talked to him after that.

Only saying.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: Scrump
Date: 12 Dec 06 - 04:11 AM

The song is simply a clever or witty tale detailing the stages of growing barley for making alcohol.

Its a personification. Its not all that deep. Just entertaining.


Give that man a cigar... or maybe a beer would be more appropriate :-)

That's exactly what I've always thought too.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: GUEST,Dave
Date: 02 Dec 07 - 10:16 PM

Well, Almost a year with no follow up. Listened to Traffic's version tonight and wanted to know why JB must die. Thought maybe he insulted a king or queen and ended up in this thread. Quite intrigued by the "nut brown bowl" thing.... perhaps that what's nut brown ale is named after?


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: TheSnail
Date: 02 Dec 07 - 10:49 PM

What worries me is, who were the three men from/into the east/west? what do they symbolise?


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 03 Dec 07 - 05:00 AM

Could it be that John Barleycorn is Roman Catholic theology couched in symbolic language owing to the persecutions subsequent to the Reformation?

Otherwise for a plethora of persectives on John Barleycorn check out John Barleycorn Reborn .


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: GUEST,TJ in San Diego
Date: 03 Dec 07 - 11:24 AM

In matters of historical context, I happily defer to my British friends. However, the term "John Barleycorn" was also used in the U.S., along with phrases such as "Who struck (hit) John?," "Demon Rum" and "Old Reliable," among many others, as a pseudonym for hard liquor - especially cheap or bad booze, which was prevalent on the frontier in the late 19th century and during Prohibition.


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Subject: RE: Meaning of John Barleycorn
From: GUEST,Jim Carroll
Date: 04 Dec 07 - 03:25 AM

There is a tendency to read all kind of mystical significance into some of the older songs - if it was ever there it has been irretrievably lost; pity.
We recorded a nice version from an elderly farmer in the west of Ireland, the last verse of which sums up all the indignities John Barlycorn (in this case The Barley Grain) has to undergo, then finally ends up being 'pissed against the wall' - nicely down-to-earth, so to speak.
For real flights of fancy, try following up The Lake of Coolfinn, with its magic islands and mermaids.
Jim Carroll


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