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Robert Burns

John Barleycorn: a Ballad >

Poems and Songs of Robert Burns
composed 1782 (23)

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 ta’en 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 fillčd up a darksome pit 
With water to the brim; 
They heavčd 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!


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