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John Barleycorn

A BALLAD.

[Composed on the plan of an old song, of which David Laing has given
an authentic version in his very curious volume of Metrical Tales.]


I.

There were three kings into the east,
Three kings both great and high;
And they hae sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn should die.

II.

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

III.

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

IV.

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.

V.

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

VI.

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

VII.

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

VIII.

They laid him down upon his back,
And cudgell'd him full sore;
They hung him up before the storm.
And turn'd him o'er and o'er.

IX.

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

X.

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.

XI.

They wasted o'er a scorching flame
The marrow of his bones;
But a miller us'd him worst of all--
He crush'd him 'tween the stones.

XII.

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.

XIII.

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

XIV.

'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.

XV.

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


Robert Burns


Poetry