Poems That Every Child Should Know/John Barleycorn

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For works with similar titles, see John Barleycorn.

John Barleycorn.

"John Barleycorn" is a favourite with boys because it pictures a successful struggle. One editor has made a temperance poem of it, mistaking its true intent. The poem is a strong expression of a plowman's love for a hardy, food-giving grain which has sprung to life through his efforts (1759-96.)

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


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


But the cheerful spring came kindly on,
And showers began to fall;
John Barleycorn got up again,
And sore surprised them all.


The sultry suns of summer came,
And he grew thick and strong;
His head well arm'd wi' pointed spears,
That no one should him wrong.


The sober autumn entered mild,
And he grew wan and pale;
His bending joints and drooping head
Showed he began to fail.


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


They took a weapon long and sharp,
And cut him by the knee,
Then tied him fast upon a cart,
Like a rogue for forgery.


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


They filled up then a darksome pit
With water to the brim,
And heaved in poor John Barleycorn,
To let him sink or swim.


They laid him out upon the floor,
To work him further woe;
And still as signs of life appeared,
They tossed him to and fro.


They wasted o'er a scorching flame
The marrow of his bones;
But a miller used him worst of all—
He crushed him 'tween two stones.


And they have taken his very heart's blood,
And drunk it round and round;
And still the more and more they drank,
Their joy did more abound.

Robert Burns.