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Penguin: John Barleycorn

19 Mar 00 - 12:02 AM (#197511)
Subject: Penguin: John Barleycorn ^^
From: Alan of Australia

From the Penguin Book Of English Folk Songs, Ed Pellow's rendition of the tune of John Barleycorn can be found here.


There was three men came out of the west,
Their fortunes for to try,
And these three men made a solemn vow,
John Barleycorn should die.
They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in,
Throwed clods upon his head,
And these three men made a solenm vow,
John Barleycorn was dead.

Then they let him lie for a very long time
Till the rain from heaven did fall,
Then little Sir John sprung up his head,
And soon amazed them all.
They let him stand till midsummer
Till he looked both pale and wan,
And little Sir John he growed a long beard
And so became a man.

They hired men with the scythes so sharp
To cut him off at the knee,
They rolled him and tied him by the waist,
And served him most barbarously.
They hired men with the sharp pitchforks
Who pricked him to the heart,
And the loader he served him worse than that,
For he bound him to the cart.

They wheeled him round and round the field
Till they came unto a barn,
And there they made a solemn mow
Of poor John Baricycorn.
They hired men with the crab-tree sticks
To cut him skin from bone,
And the miller he served him worse than that,
For he ground him between two stones.

Here's little Sir John in a nut-brown bowl,
And brandy in a glass;
And little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl
Proved the stronger man at last.
And the huntsman he can't hunt the fox,
Nor so loudly blow his horn,
And the tinker he can't mend kettles or pots
Without a little of Barleycorn.

Sung by 'Shepherd' Haden, Bampton, Oxon. (C.J.S. 1909)

Other versions are here, here, and here.

Previous song: Jack The Jolly Tar.
Next Song: Lisbon.

Alan ^^

18 Aug 00 - 01:56 PM (#280333)
Subject: RE: Penguin: John Barleycorn
From: Malcolm Douglas

From the notes to the Penguin Book (1959):

"This ballad is rather a mystery.  Is it an unusually coherent folklore survival of the ancient myth of the slain and resurrected Corn-God, or is it the creation of an antiquarian revivalist, which has passed into the popular currency and become "folklorized"?  It is in any case an old song, of which an elaborate form was printed in the reign of James I.  It was widespread over the English and Scottish countryside, and Burns re-wrote a well-known version.  During the present century, versions have been collected in Sussex (FSJ vol.I [issue 3] p.81), Hampshire (FSJ vol.III [issue 13] pp.255-6), Surrey (FSJ vol.VI [issue 21] pp.27-8), Somerset (Folk Songs From Somerset, Cecil Sharp, 1904-9, vol.III p.9 and vol.IV p.32) and Wiltshire (Folk Songs of the Upper Thames, Alfred Williams, 1923, p.246).  The tune is a variant of that usually associated with the carol,  Dives and Lazarus."  -R.V.W./A.L.L.

This version was collected by Cecil Sharp from "Shepherd" Haden of Bampton, Oxfordshire, in 1909.  It was first published in the Folk Song Journal, vol.VIII [issue 31] p.41.

Other versions on the DT:

John Barleycorn  Robert Burns' version; tune specified as Lull me beyond thee ¹  but not given.

John Barleycorn  No source or tune are given.  It is, however, a (not quite accurate) set of the  John Barleycorn's a Hero Bold ² text commonly found in 19th. century English broadsides.  A traditional version, very close to the text given here but with an additional verse, was collected, with tune, by Bob Copper from John Attrill of Fittleworth in Sussex, in 1954, and published in Folksongs of Britain and Ireland (Kennedy, 1975).  A midi of the melody goes to Alan's Mudcat Midi site.

John Barleycorn  No source is specified, and the tune given -more or less the Penguin version- doesn't fit the text, which bears a certain resemblance to the 1972 recording made by Steeleye Span; this was an arrangement of a version collected by Fred Hamer from Billy Bartle of Bedfordshire.

John Barleycorn My Jo  A temperance song using the same metaphor, based on  John Anderson My Jo,  with tune.  From the Grieg-Duncan Folksong Collection.

Curiously, there is a stray soundfile in the Download version of the DT, JBARLEY3, which has embedded lyrics that don't match any of the texts.  The tune does bear a vague resemblance to Lull me beyond thee, though.  Perhaps Dick can solve the problem when he gets back from England.


There is an entry at  The Traditional Ballad Index:
John Barleycorn  

Bruce Olson has the text of a 16th century Scots version from the Bannatyne MS at his website,  Roots of Folk: Old English, Scots, and Irish Songs and Tunes:
Sir John Barleycorn / Allan-a-mault  

There are some early texts at Steven Earnshaw's site;  Altered State: England, Literature, and the Pub.  Not given elsewhere here are:

The Ballad of Sir John Barley-corn   ("As I went through the North Country")

...together with an early text on much the same subject,   Exeter Riddle 'Ale'  

As might be expected, there are a quite a few broadside versions of this song at  Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads.  Here is a selection of the easily-legible ones:

² John Barleycorn's a Hero Bold:

John Barleycorn  Printed in 1859; printer unknown.

John Barleycorn  Printed between 1863 and 1885 by H.P. Such, Machine Printer and Publisher, 177, Union Street, Boro', S.E. London

John Barleycorn  Printed between 1858 and 1885 at the "Catnach Press," by W. Fortey, Monmouth Court, Bloomsbury London

John Barleycorn  Printed between 1840 and 1866 by J. Harkness, Preston.

John Barleycorn  Printed between 1863 and 1885 by H. Such, Machine Printer and Publisher, 177, Union St., Boro'. S.E. London.

John Barleycorn  Printed between 1860 and 1883 by H. Disley, Printer, 57, High Street, St. Giles London

Sir John Barleycorn:

Sir John Barleycorn  Printed between 1849 and 1862 by H. Such, Such's Song Mart, 123, Union Street, Borough, London.

Sir John Barleycorn  Printed between 1849 and 1862 by H. Such, London.

Sir John Barleycorn  Printer and date unknown.

A pleasant new ballad to sing ev'ning and morn, of the bloody murder of sir John Barley corn   To the tune of: Shall I lye beyond thee ¹  Printer and date unknown.

These are large images.

¹ This tune (also called Lull[e] Me Beyond Thee) may be found at Bruce Olson's   Tunes for 16 and 17th Century Broadside Ballads.  For myself, I do not see how Burns' text could comfortably be sung to it, though two relatives of the tune, "Stingo" and "Up in the Morning Early" could be made to fit easily enough.  Perhaps someone could elucidate.

T:B284- Lie Lulling Beyond Thee
E2Ec3/2 B/c|d3/2 c/de3|E2Ec3/2 B/A|^G3A3:|\
c2cd3/2 c/d|e3/2 f/ed2G|c2cd3/2 c/d|e3d3|\
e3/2 f/ed3/2 c/B|c3/2 B/Ae3|E2Ec3/2 B/A|^G3A3|]

There is some discussion of the evolution of this tune from Stingo (John Playford, 1650), through Lulle me beyond thee and Up in the Morning Early (Select Songs of Scotland, Gall and Inglis) to the Shetland fiddle tune Sister Jean, at Jack Campin's  Scales and Modes in Scottish Traditional Music.

The Winning of the Mead in the Icelandic Prose Edda (Snorri Sturluson, c.1200) offers an interesting parallel to John Barleycorn.  When the two tribes of gods, the Æsir and the Vanir, made peace between each other, they all spat into a vessel and made from the contents the god Kvasr, who was able to answer all questions.  Kvasr was later murdered by two dwarfs, who fermented his blood with honey in three vats, to make the Mead of Inspiration.  This was subsequently taken from them by the giant Suttung, from whom Óðinn reclaimed it through a mixture of trickery and the seduction of the giant's daughter.  Drinking the entire contents of the three vats, he escaped in the form of an eagle and returned the mead to Ásgarðr.  A little leaked out on the way, falling to earth, where it bestowed a scattering of Poetry upon Humankind.  Kvas was "the word for strong beer used by the eastern neighbours of the Germans, and [is] still used in Jutland for crushed fruit". (Gods and Myths of Northern Europe, H.R. Ellis Davidson, 1964.)


18 Aug 00 - 02:31 PM (#280353)
Subject: RE: Penguin: John Barleycorn
From: Joe Offer

I'm having a great time watching all this develop, Malcom.
-Joe Offer-

17 Feb 02 - 07:59 PM (#652361)
Subject: RE: Penguin: John Barleycorn
From: Malcolm Douglas

The recent revival of another John Barleycorn thread reminds me that I didn't list Forum entries here.  These are the ones that contain substantive information:

Text(s) as recorded by the Songwainers, who set a traditional text from Fred Jordan to the tune of We Plough the Fields and Scatter.

Lyr/Chords Req: barleycorn

  • Text as recorded by The Johnstons; later identified by Wolfgang as deriving from Colm O Lochlainn's Irish Street Ballads.
  • Text of Barley Mow, recorded from Fred Whiting of Kenton, Suffolk, 1985-87.
  • "Penguin" text again, this time from the Traffic arrangement of it.

Non-Barleycorn  Modern parody.

John Barleycorn
Tune in abc format, with one verse, as printed in Sharp & Marson, Folk Songs From Somerset, 3rd Series. (1906). So far as I can tell, this was noted by Sharp from Robert Pope of Alcombe in Sussex.  The rest of the thread deals with unrelated subjects.

There are rather a lot of copies at  Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads  of a broadside edition, by Brereton of Dublin, of the song in pretty much the form printed in O Lochlainn's book, though the final couple reads

The drunkard is a durty man he used me worse than all
He drank me up in his durty gut & spewed me against the wall

Somehow I neglected to mention this in my earlier list.  As is usual with Brereton, the sheets are plentiful but badly printed; this is one of the more legible copies:

Lines written on the barley corn   Printed c.1867 by P. Brereton, 1, Lr. Exchange St., Dublin.

A completely unrelated song using the familiar metaphor can be seen at the  Lester Levy Sheet Music Collection:

John Barleycorn Good-Bye  A comic song on Prohibition. Words and Music by John Stark. St. Louis, MO: Stark Music Co., 1919.

The Roud Folksong Index assigns the following reference numbers:

(Sir) John Barleycorn: Roud 164
John Barleycorn is a Hero Bold: Roud 2141
John Barleycorn My Jo: Roud 6050

There is some overlap in classification at the moment between the first two; the third appears to be known in one example only (see my first post in this thread).

18 Feb 02 - 12:09 PM (#652716)
Subject: RE: Penguin: John Barleycorn
From: Clinton Hammond

Oh great... just what I need... More versions to learn!


Very cool read, all of that...


19 Feb 02 - 03:46 AM (#653218)
Subject: RE: Penguin: John Barleycorn
From: Kernow John

Cracking thread
Thanks Alan and Malcom.

15 Mar 02 - 08:48 AM (#669753)
Subject: RE: Penguin: John Barleycorn
From: GUEST,Paul Burton

Thanks for the post of these lyrics, which looks like the version recorded by Traffic on their 1970 album, still one of the great albums ever... but that's another issue. I can't imagine a better version than Traffics but will check other sources and recordings mentioned on these lists. Thanks again.

Paul Burton Woodkerne western Mass., usa

16 Mar 02 - 07:22 AM (#670118)
Subject: RE: Penguin: John Barleycorn
From: Dead Horse

So put your version forward
Sing it at the top of your lungs
For John Barleycorn in a nasal twang
Has versions yet unsung.

16 Mar 02 - 07:46 PM (#670443)
Subject: RE: Penguin: John Barleycorn
From: michaelr

It's always bothered me that the traditional lyrics make no link between the threshing and milling and the final product, the ale. So I wrote (and have been singing) the following additional lyrics:

They wheeled him around and around the fields
`Til they came unto a barn
*And waiting there were men with clubs
*To thresh poor Barleycorn
*They put Sir John in the malting kiln
*To roast and dry his bones
And the miller he has served him worse than that
For he's ground him between two stones
*They poured him into the mashing tun
*To boil and scald his tailThey called him nut-brown ale

Now it makes sense!


16 Mar 02 - 07:49 PM (#670445)
Subject: RE: Penguin: John Barleycorn
From: michaelr

OOps, something got lost there...

*They poured him into the mashing tun
*To boil and scald his tail
And the next time they saw John Barleycorn
They called him nut-brown ale

NOW it makes sense!


16 Mar 02 - 11:37 PM (#670540)
Subject: RE: Penguin: John Barleycorn
From: GUEST,campion

I believe that the "Penguin" variant was the one that I heard Ian Anderson croak out circa 1993. Too bad he doesn't do more of this sort of thing, really.

17 Mar 02 - 04:14 AM (#670620)
From: Chris Amos

Here's a slightly different version, I got it from an old songbook many years ago and would be interested to discover where it came from etc.


Oh, three men went to market to sell three loads of rye.
They shouted up and they shouted down: the barley grain should die.

CHORUS: Ti rie Icherie eerie an
Ti rie ichrie ee.
Ti rie icherie erie an
The Barley Grain for me.

The ploughman came with a heavy plough. He ploughed me under the sod,
The winter being over and the summer coming on.

The reaper came with a sharp knife. He made me for to cry.
He caught me by the whiskers and he cut me above the thigh.

The binder came with a heavy thong. She bound me all around,
And they hired a handy man to stand me on the ground.

The pitcher came with a sharp fork. He pierced me to the heart,
And like a thief or highwayman, they threw me on the cart.

The thresher came with a heavy flail. He swore he'd break my bones,
But the miller he used me worse, he ground me between two stones.

They took me out of that. They put me in a well.
They left me there for a space of time 'till my belly began to swell.

The brewer came with all her art. She put me in the pan,
And when I got into the jug, I was the strongest man.

They drank me in the kitchen. They drank me in the hall,
But the drunkard used me worst of all. He threw me against the wall.


HTML line breaks added. --JoeClone, 5-Sep-02.

17 Mar 02 - 08:09 AM (#670675)
Subject: RE: Penguin: John Barleycorn
From: lady penelope

I like that version! It would be nice to have tune to go with that.

Stonking thread!

TTFN M'Lady P.

17 Mar 02 - 11:02 AM (#670724)
Subject: RE: Penguin: John Barleycorn
From: Chris Amos


I will try to sort out an MP3 this week


22 Mar 02 - 04:50 AM (#673871)
Subject: RE: Penguin: John Barleycorn
From: Garry Gillard

The only new thing about my (Bob Copper's) contribution is a picture of the singer from whom the words were collected in about 1954.