John Barleycorn (I)

DESCRIPTION: John Barleycorn is proclaimed dead but springs to life when the rain/dew falls on him. At midsummer he grows a beard; then men with scythes cut him, bind him to a cart, wheel him to a barn, and brew him into beer. The last verse praises his merits
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1787 (Burns Commonplace Book, according to Dick); before 1787 (according to Jamieson; see notes); a probable version was registered in 2455
KEYWORDS: resurrection death magic drink derivative
FOUND IN: Britain(England(South,West),Scotland(Aber,Bord)) US(MA,NE) Canada(Ont,Queb) Ireland
REFERENCES (30 citations):
Dixon-AncientPoemsBalladsSongsOfThePeasantryOfEngland, Ballad #15, pp. 120-122, "Sir John Barleycorn" (1 text)
Bell-Combined-EarlyBallads-CustomsBalladsSongsPeasantryEngland, pp. 300-301, "Sir John Barleycorn" (1 text)
Sharp-OneHundredEnglishFolksongs 84, "John Barleycorn" (1 text, 1 tune)
Karpeles-TheCrystalSpring 88, "John Barleycorn" (1 text, 1 tune)
Williams-FolkSongsOfTheUpperThames, pp. 246-247, "John Barleycorn" (1 text) (also Williams-Wiltshire-WSRO Wt 503)
Kennedy-FolksongsOfBritainAndIreland 276, "John Barleycorn" (1 text, 1 tune)
VaughanWilliams/Lloyd-PenguinBookOfEnglishFolkSongs, pp. 56-57, "John Barleycorn" (1 text, 1 tune)
Copper-SongsAndSouthernBreezes, pp. 216-217, "John Barleycorn" (1 text, 1 tune)
Williams-Wiltshire-WSRO Wt 404, "John Barleycorn" (1 text)
Purslow-TheConstantLovers, pp. 48-49, "John Barleycorn" (1 text, 1 tune)
Cologne/Morrison-WiltshireFolkSongs, pp. 30-31, "John Barleycorn" (1 text, 1 tune)
Palmer-EnglishCountrySongbook, #116, "John Barleycorn" (1 text, 1 tune)
OShaughnessy-MoreFolkSongsFromLincolnshire 9, "John Barleycorn" (1 text, 1 tune)
Hamer-GarnersGay, pp. 8-9, "John Barleycorn" (1 text, 1 tune)
Roud/Bishop-NewPenguinBookOfEnglishFolkSongs #97, "John Barleycorn" (1 text, 1 tune)
OLochlainn-IrishStreetBallads 89, "The Barley Corn" (1 text, 1 tune)
Morton/Maguire-ComeDayGoDayGodSendSunday 13,13A, pp. 32,105,160-32,105,160-162, "John Barleygrain" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Hodgart-FaberBookOfBallads, p. 156, "Sir John Barleycorn" (1 text)
Greig/Duncan3 559, "John Barleycorn" (1 text)
MacColl/Seeger-TravellersSongsFromEnglandAndScotland 101, "John Barleycorn" (1 text, 1 tune)
Flanders/Brown-VermontFolkSongsAndBallads, pp. 46-48, "John Barleycorn" (1 text plus some excerpts, 1 tune)
Flanders/Ballard/Brown/Barry-NewGreenMountainSongster, pp. 259-265, "John Barleycorn" (1 text, 1 tune)
Fowke-TraditionalSingersAndSongsFromOntario 1, "The Barley Grain for Me" (1 text, 1 tune)
Vikár/Panagapka-SongsNorthWoodsSungByOJAbbott 38, "The Barley Grain for Me" (1 text, 1 tune)
Shoemaker-MountainMinstrelsyOfPennsylvania, pp. 292-294, "The Barley Corn" (1 text)
Whitelaw-BookOfScottishBallads, pp. 284-285, "John Barleycorn" (1 text)
Behan-IrelandSings, #89, "Three Farmers from the North" (1 text, 1 tune, modified)
Olson-BroadsideBalladIndex, ZN282, "As I went through the North Country"
ADDITIONAL: James Kinsley, editor, Burns: Complete Poems and Songs (shorter edition, Oxford, 1969) #23, pp. 22-24, "John Barleycorn. A Ballad" (1 text, from before 1784)

Roud #164
O. J. Abbott, "The Barley Grain for Me" (on Abbott1)
Austin Flanagan, "The Barley Grain" (on Voice14)
Haxey Hood singers and customers at "The King's Arms," Haxey, Lincs. "John Barleycorn" (on FieldTrip1)
Fred Jordan, "John Barleycorn" (on Voice13)
A. L. Lloyd, "John Barleycorn" (on Lloyd3, Lloyd5, Lloyd12)
Pete Seeger & O. J. Abbott, "Barley Grain" (on Newport59/60)

Bodleian, Douce Ballads 3(83a), "A pleasant new ballad to sing ev'ning and morn, of the bloody murder of sir John Barley corn"; also Johnson Ballads 1408[many illegible words], "Sir John Barleycorn"("There was three knights came from the north"), W. Jackson and Son (Birmingham), 1842-1855; Harding B 11(1189), Harding B 15(386b), Johnson Ballads 2847[some illegible words], "Sir John Barleycorn"; 2806 b.9(38), "The Barley Corn"
LOCSinging, as100660, "The Barley Corn," P. Brereton (Dublin), 19C

cf. "John Barleycorn's a Hero Bold" (theme)
cf. "Allan o Maut (I) (Why should not Allan Honoured Be)" (theme: the tale of brewing)
cf. "Allan o Maut (II) (How Mault Deals With Every Man)" (theme: the tale of brewing)
cf. "Allan o Maut (III)" (theme: the tale of brewing)
cf. "John Barleycorn (II) (The Little Barleycorn)" (theme: the tale of brewing)
cf. "John Barleycorn (III) (The Bloody Murder of Sir John Barleycorn)" (theme: the tale of brewing)
NOTES [1709 words]: Burns: "This is partly composed on the plan of an old song known by the same name." - BS
MacColl & Seeger speculate that "John Barleycorn" was derived from the Scots ballad "Allan-a-Maut," found in the Bannatyne manuscript, 1568; its theme is similar. - PJS
Of course, the legend of the eternal grain is old -- as is the legend of the dying-and-resurrected God. Jesus, obviously, is the prototype of this, but there is also the Greek Persephone legend and others.
Incidentally, when Prohibition was passed in the United States, John Barleycorn was given a bonus funeral, beyond the annual supply. The February 2005 issue of American History magazine showed an actual tombstone:
In Memoriam
John Barleycorn
Born B.C.
Died Jan. 16, 1920
There are also broadsides commemorating his death, e.g. NLScotland, Ry.III.a.10(099), "A Hue and Cry After Sir John Barleycorn," unknown, after 1720. The notes to the broadside state that this was made in response to Robert Walpole's 1725 imposition of the malt tax -- but, in context, it seems likely that the idea was lifted from an early form of this song.
Rollins, p. 213, # 2455, lists a December 14, 1624 registration of a piece "Sir John Barleycorne," but gives no other details. - RBW
The Bodleian broadside Douce Ballads 3(83a) appears to be older than the other broadsides. Unfortunately, Bodleian has neither the printer nor date estimate. The tune is noted as "Shall I lye beyond thee."
Broadside LOCSinging as100660 appears to be the same as Bodleian 2806 b.9(38) printed by P. Brereton (Dublin).
The following comments are from the Ballad-L archives regarding Fowke's version: On 14 Aug 2007 Pete Wood noted, "I was surprised to find so few versions in North America.... Fowke ... has one called 'The Barley Grain for me' and starting 'There were three men went to Derouaghta', which is the only version I know where 3 men went instead of came, and the place they are going to sounds Irish. The title is also the tag line for one of the best known Irish versions. It was collected from OJ Abbott." John Moulden replied (16 Aug 2007), "Agreed -- Derouaghta is clearly Drogheda, Co Louth, about 30 miles north of Dublin -- Abbott sang many Irish and Irish located songs."
Burns's text is in the oral tradition. Hear, for example, Stanley Robertson's "John Barleycorn" on "Travellers' Tales - Volume 2" Kyloe 101 CD (2002).
Jamieson printed six songs about the culture, production and effect of English beer. They each have an entry in the Index: Allan o Maut (I-III) and John Barleycorn (I-III). "The first [Allan o Maut (I)] is good classical Scotish; the second [Allan o Maut (III)] is modern Scotish, and very popular in the north-east of Scotland, as is also the third [John Barleycorn (I)]; the fourth [Allan o Maut (II)] and fifth [John Barleycorn (III)] are English; and the latter, at least has been popular, as one now and then hears scraps of it among the peasants in different parts of England; but whether it was unskillfully amplified from the third, or the third happily abridged from it, does not now seem easy to be determined. The present writer is rather inclined to the latter opinion; and it is certainly very much improved in the abridgment; although both the improvement and abridgement were probably casual rather than intentional, and owing more to default of memory than to superiority of genius" (Jamieson2 pp.231-232). After having "written out" his work on the five songs "for the press" Jamieson came across Roxburghe 1.214-215 (John Barleycorn (II)). He added it "as it contains some ideas, which are found in the Scottish Sir John Barleycorn [III], and in none of the others that he has seen" (Jamieson2 pp. 258-260). Actually, Jamieson omitted part 2 of John Barleycorn (II), but those 64 lines seem not to have had an effect outside that broadside.
Dick discusses the set in his discussion of Robert Burns's adaptation of "John Barleycorn (I)" but cites Jamieson's analysis without comment (Dick p. 487).
Dixon writes,"The West-country ballad of Sir John Barleycorn is very ancient, and being the only version which has ever been sung at English merry-makings and country feasts, can certainly set up a better claim to antiquity than any of the three ballads on the same subject to be found in Evans's [Evans1 and Evans4: Allan o Maut (II), John Barleycorn (III) and John Barleycorn (II)]. Our west-country version bears the greatest resemblance to [John Barleycorn (II)], but it is very dissimilar to any of the three" (p. 120).
Jamieson printed his John Barleycorn (I) "from his own recollection, as he learned it in Morayshire when he was a boy, and before the Poems of Burns were published" (Jamieson2 p. 240). Excluding the last eight lines - which Jamieson added - his John Barleycorn (I) has 44 lines; 17 lines are shared with John Barleycorn (III) and 6 are shared with part 1 of John Barleycorn (II) (Jamieson2 pp. 240-243).
Specifically, with the line numbers from John Barleycorn (III) (Pepys 1.470) and (II) (Roxburghe 1.214-215) shown in parentheses:
.. From John Barleycorn (III)
03(023) And they have sworn a solemn oath
04(024) John Barleycorn shall die
05(029) They've ta'en a plough and plough'd him down,
06(034) Put clods upon his head;
08(036) John Barleycorn was dead
10(038) And showers began to fall;
12(040) Which did surprise them all
14(046) And he grew pale and wan;
15(044) John Barleycorn has got a beard
16(048) Like any other man
17(049) They've ta'en a hook, that was full sharp,
19(064) And they've bound him intill a corn cart,
20(063) Like a thief for the gallow-tree.
21(073) They've ta'en twa sticks, that were full stout
22(074/076) And sore they beat his bones;
23(099) The miller used him worse than that,
24(100) And ground him between two stones
.. From John Barleycorn (II)
37(037) He'll gar the huntsman shoot his dog
39(054) He'll gar a maiden dance stark naked
41(015) He'll change a man into a boy,
42(016) A boy into an ass;
43(013) He'll change your gold into silver,
44(014) And your silver into brass.
Dixon's "west-country" John Barleycorn (I) has 52 lines; 24 lines are shared with John Barleycorn (III) and 12 are shared with part 1 of John Barleycorn (II) [Dixon #15 pp. 120-122].
Specifically, with the line numbers from John Barleycorn (III) (Pepys 1.470) and (II) (Roxburghe 1.214-215) shown in parentheses:
.. From John Barleycorn (III)
02(022) Their victory to try
03(023) And they have taken a solemn oath,
04(024) Poor Barleycorn should die
05(029) They took a plough and ploughed him in,
06(033/034) And harrowed clods o0n his head;
07(023) And then they took a solemn oath,
08(036) Poor Barleycorn was dead
09(037) There he lay sleeping in the ground,
10(038) Till rain from the sky did fall;
12(040) And so amazed them all
13(041) There he remained till Midsummer,
14(046) And looked both pale and wan;
15(044) Then Barleycorn he got a beard,
16(048) And so became a man.
18(051) To cut him off at the knee
21(061) Then they sent men with pitchforks strong
22(062) To pierce him through the heart,
24(064) They bound him to a cart.
27(071) And so they fetched him out again,
28(072) And laid him on the floor.
29(073) Then they sent men with holly clubs,
30(074/076) To beat the flesh from his bones;
31(099) But the miller served him worse than that,
32(100) For he ground him between two stones
.. From John Barleycorn (II)
34(010) That was ever sown on land;
36(012) By the turning of your hand
37(015) It will make a boy into a man,
38(016) And a man into an ass;
39(013) It will change your gold into silver,
40(014) And your silver into brass.
41(037) It will make the huntsman hunt the fox,
42(038) That never wound his horn;
43(039) It will bring the tinker to the stocks,
45(053) It will make the maids stark naked dance,
47(055) It will help them to a job by chance,-
48(056) Well done, Barleycorn!
[See the Index entry for John Barleycorn (III) regarding line numbering across versions; at this time there is only one version of John Barleycorn (II).]
Wood re-examines Jamieson's six songs and adds a seventh, indexed here as "John Barleycorn's a Hero Bold" which, he writes, "was composed in the mid nineteenth century" (Wood p. 445). Wood doesn't offer support for that date but I have no text I can date before 1859. In any case, that song was probably created after Jamieson's and Dixon's analyses. Wood writes that each of the seven family members can be parsed into at most three parts:
"Part A concerns the growth, harvesting, and processing of the plant,
Part B the brewing process, and
Part C the effects of beer on people" (Wood p. 439).
Wood's Figure 3 builds a "'timeline' of the ancestors of 'John Barleycorn' but it does not show "parts." Perhaps he would have shown that as follows [%: not included in Figure 3]:
Allan o Maut (I) [1568] A,C
Allan o Maut (II) [1601-c1690] C
John Barleycorn (III) [1624-1700] A,B,C
John Barleycorn (I) [1784-] A,B,C
John Barleycorn (II) [1658] C
%Allan o Maut (III) [1790?-1806] A
%John Barleycorn is a Hero Bold [1859-c1890] A,C
Wood examines Jamieson's statement, quoted above, that he cannot easily determine whether John Barleycorn (III) was created from John Barleycorn (I), or the reverse, though he was "rather inclined to the latter opinion." He concludes that there is no question but that Jamieson's inclination was correct. We need to cut Jamieson some slack here. He included the text of John Barleycorn (II) at the last minute without, apparently, looking at its own connection to the John Barleycorn (I) text. Had he taken the time, as Dixon did after him, he would have seen that the John Barleycorn (I) texts incorporated abridgments of both John Barleycorn (III) and John Barleycorn (II). At that point, I believe, he would have been as forceful as Wood about what was sender and what was receiver of text lines. (On the other hand, Wood's Figure 3 "timeline" does not show John Barleycorn II as a source for John Barleycorn III. Wood's Figures 4 and 5 show only how John Barloeycorn (I) affects early versions of John Barleycorn (I)). - BS
Bibliography Last updated in version 6.4
File: ShH84

Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List

Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography

The Ballad Index Copyright 2022 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.