John Barleycorn

Photo by Trevor

One of the cooler things I received for Christmas, as an aspiring brewer and literary type (also aspiring), was this t-shirt from The Brewing Network, which features Scottish poet Robert Burns’s version of the old folk song, “John Barleycorn” (or “John Barleycorn Must Die”) in the shape of a brewing carboy. The poem tells barley’s story from planting to brewing as a ballad and a tale of heroic sacrifice. The words are below, but to hear a proper reading, check out the YouTube clip at the bottom.

John Barleycorn
by Robert Burns

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 turn’d 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 further 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!

I love The Brewing Network’s other shirts and its “hop grenade” logo. I haven’t checked out any of the radio shows or podcasts yet. It must be a small outfit, since the emails Jodi exchanged when ordering this shirt were signed “Linda, Justin’s Mom.”

Anyway, check out the reading below, then check out The Brewing Network.

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