> A.L. Lloyd > Songs > John Barleycorn
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John Barleycorn

[ Roud 164 ; G/D 3:559 ; Ballad Index ShH84 ; VWML CJS2/9/2124 ; Bodleian Roud 164 ; Wiltshire 857 , 859 ; trad.]

Garners Gay The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs

This old ballad of the death and resurrection of the Corn God was recorded in many versions by lots of musicians:

A.L. Lloyd sang John Barleycorn in 1956, accompanied by Alf Edwards on English concertina, on English Drinking Songs. This recording was also included in 1994 on his Fellside anthology CD Classic A.L. Lloyd. Lloyd commented in the latter's sleeve notes:

The song is related to the ancient idea of the Corn King. Perhaps too neatly so, hence the suspicion that it may not be a genuine piece of primitive folklore. It is old (it was already in print c.1635) and has been passed on by generations of country singers. The tune is a variant of Dives and Lazarus.

A group of Boggans from Haxey, Lincolnshire, sang John Barleycorn in the 1950s in a recording made by Peter Kennedy and Seamus Ennis. It was included on the anthology Songs of Ceremony (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 9; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970).

Mike Waterson sang John Barleycorn on the Watersons' 1965 LP Frost and Fire. His first three verses are quite similar to Lloyd's, the first half of the fourth differs more and his fifth verse is completely different from Lloyd's fifth and sixth verse. Mike Waterson's recording was also published on the Topic Sampler No. 6, A Collection of Ballads & Broadsides and in 2004 on the Watersons' 4CD anthology Mighty River of Song. A.L. Lloyd commented in Mike's original recording's sleeve notes:

Sometimes called The Passion of the Corn. It's such an unusually coherent figuration of the old myth of the Corn-king cut down and rising again, that the sceptical incline to think it may be an invention or refurbishing carried out by some educated antiquarian. If so, he did his work long ago and successfully, for the ballad was already in print in the early years of the seventeenth century, and it has been widespread among folk singers in many parts of the English and Scottish countryside. Cecil Sharp obtained this version from Shepherd Haden of Bampton, Oxfordshire [on 31 August 1909].

Fred Jordan sang John Barleycorn in a recording made by Bill Leader and Mike Yates in a private room in The Bay Malton Hotel, Oldfield Brow, Altringham, Cheshire, in 1966. It was included in the same year on his Topic album Songs of a Shropshire Farm Worker and in 1998 on the Topic anthology They Ordered Their Pints of Beer and Bottles of Sherry (The Voice of the People Series Volume 13). Another recording made by Mike Yates in 1965 was included in 2003 on his Veteran anthology A Shropshire Lad. The Topic album's notes commented:

In ancient Egypt, harvesters performed a ceremony in which they begged forgiveness of the corn before they reaped it. Indeed everywhere men have seen a divine power in corn, and sometimes cutting it has seemed close to the killing of the Gods. The Passion of the Corn is depicted with astonishing clarity and coherence in the old John Barleycorn song, which has already found its way into print in the early years of the seventeenth century. Fred Jordan learnt it from his father.

Martin Carthy sang John Barleycorn in 1966 on Songs from ABC Television's “Hallelujah” and, accompanied by Dave Swarbrick, on their 1967 LP Byker Hill. This version is quite similar to Mike Waterson's, see the lyrics below. It was reissued on the compilation album This Is... Martin Carthy. Another version is on his 1974 album Sweet Wivelsfield. A live recording from Memphis Folk Club, Leeds dating from 1973 can be found on The Carthy Chronicles. He also sang it live in studio in July 2006 for the DVD Guitar Maestros. Martin Carthy commented in his original album's sleeve notes:

A.L. Lloyd in The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs points out that if John Barleycorn is a folklore survival of the ancient myth of the death and resurrection of the Corn God, it is remarkable if only for its coherence, but, he says, it could be the work of some more recent writer which was somehow absorbed into the tradition. It is certainly powerful enough to be the former but also quaint enough (not to use the word in its pejorative sense) to be the latter. It might be interesting to speculate further of the three men coming from the West (sunset—the place of death?) bringing with them the promise of live (for no matter what they do they succeed only in giving John Barleycorn new life) and the Three Wise Men coming from the East (sunrise—the place of life?) to see Jesus, bringing as gifts the promise of death. It is found all over the British Isles; this version was taken down in Bampton, Oxfordshire, by Cecil Sharp.

and in the Carthy Chronicles:

Forget the academic stuff about death and rebirth, fertility symbols and corn gods! The reason that this is one of the best known and most popular of all ballads—and one which has crossed a great many musical thresholds—is that it's actually about that other activity which most commonly accompanies the singing of traditional songs—drinking!

Dave and Tony Arthur sang The Barley Grain for Me in 1967 on their Transatlantic album Morning Stands on Tiptoe.

The Young Tradition sang John Barleycorn in 1968 on their last LP, Galleries. This track was included in 1994 on the Ronco anthology The British Folk Collection as the first Young Tradition track reissued on CD. They also sang it on 17 November 1968 at their concert at Oberlin College, Ohio, that was published in 2013 on their Fledg'ling CD Oberlin 1968. Heather Wood commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

From the Cecil Sharp collection. One of the many songs which we picked up by a process of osmosis.

Traffic recorded John Barleycorn as title track of their 1970 album John Barleycorn Must Die with verses nearly identical to Mike Waterson's. In fact, Steve Winwood learnt the song from the Watersons. This track was also included in 1975 on the famous anthology Electric Muse: The Story of Folk into Rock.

The Broadside sang John Barleycorn on their 1971 album of Lincolnshire folk songs, The Gipsy's Wedding Day. They noted:

One of the songs traditionally sung at Haxey in connexion with the famous Hood Game, held every 6th January. This ancient and widespread ballad in celebration of barley juice is very suitable to that occasion.

The Songwainers sang John Barleycorn in 1971 on their eponymous Argo album The Songwainers. They also sang it in June 1976 at the festival Eurofolk '76 in Ingelheim, Germany. They commented on their album's sleeve:

Surely one of the most popular songs of the Folk Music ‘revival’ both with singer and listener. This again is our own arrangement, taken from Fred Jordan's text and set to a popular C19 harvest hymn-tune, Wir Pflügen und Straüen, attributed to J. A. P. Schulz (1747-1800).

Derek and Dorothy Elliott sang John Barleycorn in 1972 on their eponymous Leader album, Derek & Dorothy Elliott.

Steeleye Span's version on their 1972 album Below the Salt is again similar in the beginning to the previous versions but differs in the last verse. They recorded John Barleycorn a second time in 2002 for their CD Present. A live recording from The Forum, London on 2 September 1995 was released on their double CD The Journey. Their singer Maddy Prior recorded John Barleycorn in 2003 for her solo album Lionhearts; this track can also be found on her anthology Collections: A Very Best of 1995 to 2005. Their first recording's sleeve notes commented:

Adam, Cain and Abel staggered manfully across the field carrying a plough, a harrow and a grain of wheat … John Barleycorn—mysterious intimations from above told them to dig three deep furrows and bury him—this done they returned home and started to draw up plans for the first ale house.

Bob Hart sang John Barleycorn at home in Snape, Suffolk in July 1972 in a recording made by Tony Engle. It was published in 1973 on his Topic album Songs from Suffolk. Another recording made by Rod and Danny Stradling in July 1969 was included in 2007 on his Musical Traditions anthology A Broadside.

Ernest Austin from Great Bentley, Essex, sang John Barleycorn in a recording made by Tony Engle in November 1973. It was published in 1974 on the Topic album Flash Company, and in 2010 on the Veteran anthology of traditional singers from Essex, The Fox & the Hare. John Howson noted on the song:

This complete version of the classic country song tells the story of the life-cycle of the barley grain used in brewing beer. One of the earliest known versions was a black letter broadside printed by Henry Gosson (1607-41) which can be found in the Pepys Collection. It became popular with eighteenth century printers and later on sequels such as Hey, John Barleycorn and Little John Barleycorn appeared. The song became popular all over rural England and not surprisingly was found throughout East Anglia.

I recorded two other fine versions in Suffolk from Tom Smith of Thorpe Morieux (Songs Sung in Suffolk) [and] Roy Last of Mendlesham Green (Who Owns the Game?), and early collectors also found the song prevalent in Essex. In 1904 Ralph Vaughan Williams collected it from a Mr Peacock at Ingrave, and in 1911 Clive Carey noted it down from both George Wright and Harry Smith in Thaxted. Then in the early 1960s Sam Steele recorded Billy Rash of West Wratting on the Cambridgeshire/Essex border singing the song and the excellent Essex singer Reg Bacon of Radwinter, whose version can be heard on Heel & Toe.

Bob Blake sang John Barleycorn in a recording made by Mike Yates at Broadbridge Heath, Sussex in 1974 that was included in 1987 on the Veteran Tapes cassette of traditional singing in Sussex, Ripest Apples (VT107), and in 2001 on the Veteran CD anthology of “traditional folk music from rural England”, Down in the Fields.

Tom Smith of Thorpe Morieux (b. 1918) learned John Barleycorn from his father Bert Smith and sang it in a John Howson recording on the Veteran Tapes cassette Songs Sung in Suffolk Vol 2 (VT102, published in 1987-89), on the 2000 Veteran CD Songs Sung in Suffolk, and on the CD accompanying The Folk Handbook (2007).

Austin Flanagan sang The Barley Grain at home in Luogh, Doolin, Co. Clare, in August 1974. This recording made by Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie was included in 1998 on the Topic anthology Troubles They Are But Few (The Voice of the People Series Volume 14).

Barry Skinner sang John Barleycorn in 1974 on the Argo album The World of the Countryside.

Roy Bailey learned John Barleycorn from The Constant Lovers, edited by Frank Purslow, and sang it in 1976 on his album New Bell Wake.

The John Renbourn Group sang John Barleycorn in 1977 on their Transatlantic album A Maid in Bedlam.

Louis Killen sang John Barleycorn in Winter 1977 at the Eldron Fennig Museum of American Ephemera; this recording was published in the following year on his album Old Songs, Old Friends.

Bill Price sang John Barleycorn in 1978 on his Autogram album I Sing As I Please. He commented:

An Irish version of the John Barleycorn saga. I can't remember where I first learned it but probably in Canada. It has changed a lot over the years.

There are several Fairport Convention live recordings of John Barleycorn, e.g. on Forever Young (Cropredy 1982), The Boot (Cropredy 1983), and The Cropredy Box (Cropredy 1997).

Andy Turner first learned John Barleycorn from Steeleye Span's album. He and Ian Giles sang the classic Shepherd Haden version collected by Cecil Sharp, though, in 1983 on Magpie Lane's first album, The Oxford Ramble, and he sang it as the 10 June 2016 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week. This video shows And and Ian at the very first Magpie Lane gig at Holywell Music Room in May 1993:

Andy Turner also sang a version of John Barleycorn that was collected in the 1970s by Gwilym Davies on Magpie Lane's 2000 CD A Taste of Ale. Andy Turner and Chris Wood recorded another version on a demo tape in ca. 1985 which he used as the 22 October 2012 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week. This version was collected from Bert Edwards of Little Stretton, Shropshire, by Peter Kennedy and printed in the latter's Folksongs of Britain and Ireland, and is similar to Fred Jordan's version.

Pete Morton sang John Barleycorn in 1990 at the Folk Festival Sidmouth, and in 1998 on his Harbourtown album Trespass. He noted:

I've loved this song since I first heard it in a pub in Leicester many moons ago. Turned me on to traditional folk and re-incarnation.

Barry Dransfield sang John Barleycorn in 1994 on his Rhiannon CD Be Your Own Man. This track was also included in 2007 on the anthology Old Wine New Skins.

Coope, Boyes & Simpson sang John Barleycorn on their 1998 CD Hindsight.

The New Scorpion Band sang John Barleycorn in 1999 on their first CD, Folk Songs and Tunes from the British Isles. They noted:

Although most of us no longer work on the land, the power of this extraordinary and ancient song remains undiminished. The song was first printed as a blackletter ballad in the reign of James II, but may well be much older. The spirit of the grain personified. Our version was collected by Cecil Sharp from John Stafford of Bishops Sutton in Somerset.

Finest Kind sang John Barleycorn on their 2003 album Silks & Spices. They noted:

A widely sung epic tale of mutilation, death and resurrection, which happily doubles as a recipe for mankind’s greatest thirst quencher. The same version o this song was recorded in 1970 by Traffic on an album called John Barleycorn Must Die, and was a considerable hit in the UK. Ian [Robb] confesses to some minor meddling with the tune; the originally transcribed version can be found in Ralph Vaughan Williams and A.L. Lloyd's The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.

Chris Foster sang Jack Barleycorn in 2003 on his Tradition Bearers CD Traces.

Jim Causley sang John Barleycorn in 2005 on his WildGoose CD Fruits of the Earth.

Tim Radford sang John Barleycorn on his 2005 CD Home from Home. He noted:

As a child, whenever we went on a journey in the car or on a train in the South of England we would came across huge signs in fields announcing “You are now entering the Strong Country” this being the local Strongs Brewery of Romsey; one of their beers was “Barleycorn” and this was my first encounter with the word, and I think about that every time I hear this song. I also love the way the song describes the production of beer as the life and death of a man.

This song was collected throughout Hampshire and Dorset by the Hammonds and Gardiner and is even common in North America. My text is from Mr. Miller of Wootton Fitzpaine, Dorset, via Frank Purslow's book The Constant Lovers, but my tune is probably influenced by a Roy Bailey version.

Chris Wood sang John Barleycorn in 2005 on his CD The Lark Descending.

Duncan Williamson sang John Barleycorn at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2006. This recording was included a year later on Festival anthology Some Rants o' Fun (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Volume 3). His version was also included in the EFDSS book of songs of English and Scottish Travellers and Gypsies, Traveller's Joy.

Tim van Eyken sang Barleycorn “after Fred Jordan” in 2006 on his Topic CD Stiffs Lovers Holymen Thieves. This track was also included in 2009 on Topic's 70th Anniversary anthology, Three Score and Ten.

Paul Weller and Martin and Eliza Carthy sang John Barleycorn in 2007 on The Imagined Village's eponymous first CD, The Imagined Village.

The Lark Rise Band recorded John Barleycorn in 2008 for their album Lark Rise Revisited.

Tim Laycock sang John Barleycorn on his 2010 CD of folk songs and tunes from Dorset, Sea Strands. He noted:

Another song from the repertoire of William Miller of Wootton Fitzpaine, who the Hammond brothers visited in April 1906, braving the hills of West Dorset on their bicycles. They also collected a version of John Appleby from Farmer Miller, and Henry Hammond wrote to his friend and fellow collector George Gardiner as follows: “I am going to get John Appleby on Monday God willing; I am not bursting my kidneys but I nearly burst myself altogether by falling off my bike going down a steep hill on which I encountered a big stone which did ‘my ruin prove’. I have wrenched my left shoulder, and am just off to see Cooper medicus of Lyme Regis. My brother R is riding to Bridgwater today.”

Jon Boden sang John Barleycorn as the 13 April 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. He noted in his blog:

Another ‘big song’ that I’ve only just got around to learning. There are so many good versions around, to choose from, but this is basically Carthy’s version I think.

Mark T sang John Barleycorn in 2011 on his CD Folk Songs & Ballads.

The Dovetail Trio sang Ernest Austin's version of John Barleycorn in 2014 on their eponymous EP, The Dovetail Trio. This video shows them at the Wheelhouse on 4 January 2014:

Belinda Kempster and Fran Foote sang theur uncle/great uncle Ernest Austin's version of John Barleycorn on their 2019 CD On Clay Hill.

Jim Moray sang John Barleycorn on his 2019 CD The Outlander. He noted:

This is the version sung by the fool and eleven boggins at the Haxey Hood game in Haxey, North Lincolnshire, on the twelfth day of Christmas every year.

Lyrics

A.L. Lloyd sings John Barleycorn Mike Waterson sings John Barleycorn

There was three men come out of the west
Their fortunes for to try,
And these three men made a solemn vow:
John Barleycorn should die.
They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in,
Throwed clods upon his head.
And these three men made a solemn vow:
John Barleycorn was dead.

There were three men come out of the west
Their fortunes for to try,
And these three men made a solemn vow:
John Barleycorn should die.
They've ploughed, they've sown, they've harrowed him in,
Throwed clods on his head.
And these three men made a solemn vow:
John Barleycorn was dead.

They let him lie for a very long time
Till the rain from heaven did fall,
And little Sir John sprung up his head
And that amazed them all.
They let him stand till midsummer
And he growed both pale and wan.
Then little Sir John, he growed a long beard
And so become a man.

They've let him lie for a very long time
Till the rain from hea'en did fall,
And little Sir John sprung up his head
And soon amazed them all.
They've let him stand till midsummer day
Till he looked both pale and wan.
And little Sir John's grown a long, long beard
And so become a man.

They hired men with the scythes so sharp
To cut him off at the knee.
And poor little Johnny Barleycorn
They served most barbarously.
They hired men with the sharp pitchforks
To pierce him to the heart.
And the loader, he served him worse than that
For he bound him to the cart.

They've hired men with the scythes so sharp
To cut him off at the knee.
They've rolled him and tied him by the waist,
Serving him most barbarously.
They've hired men with the sharp pitchforks
Who pricked him to the heart.
And the loader, he served him worse than that
For he's bound him to the cart.

They wheeled him all around the field
A prisoner to endure,
And in the barn poor Barleycorn
They laid him upon the floor.
They hired men with the crab tree sticks
To cut him skin from bone,
And the miller, he served him worse than that
For he ground him between two stones.

They've wheeled him round and around the field
Till they came into the barn
And there they've made a solemn mow
Of poor John Barleycorn.
They've hired men with the crab tree sticks
To cut him skin from bone,
And the miller, he has served him worse than that
For he's ground him between two stones.

I'll make a boy into a man,
A man into an ass.
I'll change your gold to silver, lass,
And your silver into brass.
I'll make the huntsman hunt the fox
With never a hound or horn.
I'll bring the tinker into gaol
Says old John Barleycorn.

Here's little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl
And here's brandy in the glass
And little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl
Proved the strongest man at last.
For the huntsman, he can't hunt the fox
Nor so loudly to blow his horn,
And the tinker, he can't mend kettles nor pots
Without a little barley corn.

Oh barley wine is the choicest drink
That was ever drunk on land.
It will make a man do miracles
By the turning of his hand.
You can tip your brandy in a glass,
Your whiskey in a can,
But barley corn and his nut-brown ale
Will prove the stronger man.

Martin Carthy sings John BarleycornSteeleye Span sing John Barleycorn

Oh there were three men came out of the west
Their fortunes for to try,
And these three men made a solemn vow:
John Barleycorn should die.
They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in,
Throwed clods upon his head.
Then these three men made a solemn vow:
John Barleycorn was dead.

[spoken] There were three men
Came from the west
Their fortunes for to tell,
And the life of John Barleycorn as well.

They have laid him in three furrows deep,
Laid clods upon his head,
Then these three man made a solemn vow
𝄆 John Barleycorn was dead. 𝄇

They let him lie for a very long time
Till the rain from heaven did fall.
Then little Sir John he raised up his head
And he soon amazed them all.
They let him lie till the long midsummer
Till he looked both pale and wan.
Then little Sir John growed a long, long beard
And so became a man.

They let him lie for a very long time
Till the rain from heaven did fall,
Then little Sir John he sprang up his head
And 𝄆 he did amaze them all. 𝄇

And they let him stand till the midsummer day,
Till he looked both pale and wan.
The little Sir John he grew a long beard
And 𝄆 he so became a man. 𝄇

Chorus (from here on after each verse):
Fa la la la it's a lovely day
Sing fa la la leia
Fa la la la it's a lovely day
Singing fa la la leia

They hired men with the scythes so sharp
To cut him off down by the knee.
They rolled him and tied him around by the waist,
Served him most barbarously.
They hired men with the sharp pitchforks
Who pierced him to the heart.
But the loader, he served him far worse than that
For he bound him to the cart.

So they have hired men with the scythes so sharp,
To cut him off at the knee,
And they rolled him, they tied him around the waist,
𝄆 They've served him barbarously. 𝄇

They rode him around and around the field
Till they came into a barn,
And there they made a solemn mow
Of poor John Barleycorn.
They hired men with the crab-tree sticks
Who cut him skin from bone
But the miller, he served him far worse than that
For he ground him between two stones.

And they have hired men with the crab tree sticks,
To cut him skin from bone,
And the miller, he has served him worse than that,
𝄆 He ground him between two stones. 𝄇

Here's little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl
And brandy in a glass.
And little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl
Proved the stronger man at last.
For the hunter, he can't hunt the fox
Nor so loudly blow his horn,
And the tinker, he can't mend his kettles or his pots
Without a little bit of John Barleycorn.

And they have wheeled him here and they've wheeled him there,
They've wheeled him to a barn,
And they have served him worse than that,
𝄆 They've bunged him in a vat. 𝄇

Well, they have worked their will on John Barleycorn
But he lived to tell the tale,
For they pour him out of an old brown jug
And 𝄆 they call him home brewed ale. 𝄇

Fred Jordan sings John Barleycorn The Songwainers sing John Barleycorn

Now, there came three men out of Kent, my boys,
For to plough for wheat and rye,
And they made a vow and a solemn vow
John Barleycorn must die.

There were three men came out of Kent,
Their fortunes for to try,
And these three men made a solemn vow:
John Barleycorn should die.

So they ploughed him deep in the furrow
And they sowed rye o'er his head,
And these three men home rejoicing went
John Barleycorn was dead.

So they ploughed him deep into furrows
And they throw'd clods o'er his head;
And these three men home rejoicing went,
John Barleycorn was dead.

Chorus (after every other verse):
Come, put your wine into glasses,
Put your cider into old tin cans.
Put Barleycorn in the nut-brown bowl
For he's proved the strongest man.

But the sun shone warm and the wind blew soft
And it rained in a day or so.
John Barleycorn felt the wind and rain
And he soon began to grow.

But the sun shone warm and the winds blew strong
And it rained in a day or so.
John Barleycorn saw the wind and the rain
And he soon began to grow.

But the rye began to grow as well,
The rye grew slow but tall,
But John Barleycorn he grew short and quick
And he proved them liars all.

But the rye began to grow as well,
It grew both strong but tall.
John Barleycorn grew short and sweet
And he proved them a-liars all.

So they hired men with sickles
To cut him off at the knee,
And worst of all, John Barleycorn,
They served him barbarously.

So they hired men with scythes
For to cut him off at the knee,
And worse than that, poor Barleycorn,
They served him barbarously.

For they hired men with pikels
To toss him on to a load,
And when they tossed John Barleycorn
They tied him down with cords.

And they hired men with pitchforks
To toss him into the barn,
And when they'd tossed John Barleycorn
They tied him down with thorns.

Then they hired men with threshels
To beat him high and low.
They came smick-smack upon poor Jack's back
Till the flesh began to flow.

Then they hired men with thrashes
To beat him high and low;
They came smick-smack upon poor Jack's back
Until the place began to flow.

Then they put him into the kiln, my boys,
Thinking to dry his bones,
And when he came out John Barleycorn
They crushed him between two stones.

Then they put him into the mashing tubs,
Thinking to burn his tail,
And when he came out they changed his name,
For they called him home-brewed ale.

Then they put him into a mashing bin,
Thinking to burn his tail,
And when he came out they changed his name
For they called him home-brewed ale.

So put your wine into glasses
And your cider in pewter cans.
Put John Barleycorn in the old brown jug,
For he's proved the strongest man.

To me rye-fal-dairy fol-the-diddle-ay,
To me rye-fal-lairy oh,
To me rye-fal-lairy fol-the-diddle-ay,
To me rye-fal-dairy oh.

Ernest Austin sings John Barleycorn

There was three men come from the west, and they were all a-dry,
They made a vow, a solemn vow, John Barleycorn should die,
Ah poor boy, John Barleycorn should die.

They ploughed their land, they harrowed it well, scratched clods all over his head,
They made a vow, a solemn vow, John Barleycorn was dead,
Ah poor boy, John Barleycorn was dead.

They let him lay a little while, ‘til a shower of rain did fall,
Then John Barleycorn sprang up a green blade and soon surprised them all,
Ah poor boy he soon surprised them all.

They let him stand ‘til midsummer, ‘til he grew pale and sear,
Then they hired men with scythe stick in to cut him down at his knees,
Ah poor boy, to cut him down at his knees.

They hired men with pitchforks in to prick him to his heart,
They pitch-ed him and they loaded him and they bound him to a cart,
Ah poor boy, they bound him to a cart.

They carted him up and down the field, they carted him to the farm,
That is how they served John Barleycorn and they swore they done him no harm,
Ah poor boy, they swore they done him no harm.

They’ve hired men with great sticks in to beat him out at once,
Swish, swash went onto his head, and the flesh flew from his bones,
Ah poor boy and the flesh flew from his bones.

They put him into a sack poor boy and tied him up with a string,
But John Barleycorn untied himself and he soon got out again,
Ah poor boy, he soon got out again.

They put him onto a kiln poor boys for to roast his bones,
But now they served him the worst of all, they crushed him between two stones,
Ah poor boy, they crushed him between two stones.

They put him into a tub poor boy, for to scald him there,
But John Barleycorn ran out below and he soon became strong beer,
Ah poor boy, he soon became strong beer.

Put wine into a glass, put cider into a can,
Put John Barleycorn into a pint mug and he’ll prove the noblest man,
Ah poor boy, he’ll prove the noblest man.

Let any man be as strong as he will, as I’ve often told you before,
But if he takes too much of John Barleycorn he’ll put you onto the floor,
Ah poor boy, he’ll put you onto the floor.

Tim Radford sings John Barleycorn

Two hired men came from the north, their victory to try
And they did make a solemn vow John Barleycorn should die.

Chorus (after each verse):
To me right fol dol the diddle lol the day
To me right fol the diddle dol the dey.

They ploughed the ground and harrowed him in, threw clods upon his head
Then they did both rejoice and sing, John Barleycorn is dead.

There he lay all underground, till rain on him did fall
Then Barleycorn sprung up again and so he done 'em all.

There he stood till midsummer, till he grew pale and wan
And Barleycorn he grew a long beard and so became a man.

They hired men with scythes so sharp to cut him off at knee
And the women with their forks and rakes they used him bitterly.

They hired men with prongs so sharp to stab him to the heart,
And like a thief or felon, they did bind him to a cart.

They wheeled him round and round the fields till they came to a barn
And there they made a mow of him to keep him from all harm.

Then hired men with long staffs came To beat him skin from bone,
But the miller he served him worst than that for he ground him between two stones.

Put brandy in a keg, me boys, put cider in a can,
But Barleycorn in an old brown bowl will floor the strongest man.

He'll turn your gold to silver, your silver into brass,
He'll make a boy become a man, and a man become an ass.

The Dovetail Trio sing John Barleycorn

There were three men come from the west and they were all a-dry.
They made a vow, a solemn vow, John Barleycorn should die,
Ah poor boy, John Barleycorn should die.

They ploughed the land, they harrowed it well, scratched cloths all over his head.
They made a vow, a solemn vow, John Barleycorn was dead,
Ah poor boy, John Barleycorn was dead.

They let him lay a little while ‘til a shower of rain did fall,
Then Barleycorn sprang up a green blade and soon surprised them all,
Ah poor boy, and soon surprised them all.

They let him stand ‘til midsummer ‘til he grew pale and sore,
Then they hired men with scythe sticks in to cut him down at his knees,
Ah poor boy, to cut him down at his knees.

They hired men with pitch forks in to prick him to his heart.
They pitched him and they loaded him and they bound his to a cart,
Ah poor boy, they bound him to a cart.

They carted him up and down the field, they carted him to the farm.
That’s how they served John Barleycorn, and they swore they’d done him no harm,
Ah poor boy, they swore they’d done him no harm.

They hired men with great sticks in, to beat him out at once.
Swish, swash went onto his head and the flesh flew from his bones,
Ah poor boy, the flesh flew from his bones.

They put him into a sack, poor boy, and tied him up with a string.
But Barleycorn untied himself and he soon got out again,
Ah poor boy, he soon got out again.

They put him onto a kiln, poor boy, for to roast his bones.
But now they served him the worst of all, they crushed him between two stones,
Ah poor boy, they crushed him between two stones.

They put him into a tub, poor boy, for to scold him there.
But Barleycorn ran out below, he soon became strong beer,
Ah poor boy, he soon became strong beer.

Put wine into a glass, poor boy, put cider into a can,
Put Barleycorn into a pint mug and he’ll prove the noblest man,
Ah poor boy, he’ll prove the noblest man.

Let any man be strong as he will, as I’ve oft told you before,
If he takes too much John Barleycorn he’ll put you onto the floor,
Ah poor boy, he’ll put you onto the floor.

Links

See also Pete Wood's article John Barleycorn revisited: Evolution and Folk Song at Musical Traditions.