John Barleycorn Must Die

Today, August 1, is Lammas Day/Lughnasadh, the Anglo-Celtic festival of harvest, fruit, grains, and bread.

In honor of this, I’m posting the lyrics to John Barleycorn, a 17th-century ballad that’s now best known as a Traffic tune from the album of (almost) the same name: John Barleycorn Must Die.

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

They’ve plowed, they’ve sown, they’ve harrowed him in,
Threw clods upon his head,
And these three men made a solemn vow:
John Barleycorn was dead.

They’ve let him lie for a very long time,
Till the rains from heav’n did fall,
And little Sir John sprung up his head,
And so amazed them all.

They’ve let him stand ’till midsummer’s day,
Till he looked both pale and wan,
And little Sir John’s grown a long, long beard,
And so become a man.

They’ve hired men with scythes so sharp,
To cut him off at the knee.
They’ve rolled him and tied him by the waist,
Serving him most barb’rously.

They’ve hired men with the sharp pitchforks,
Who pricked him to the heart,
And the loader, he has served him worse than that,
For he’s bound him to the cart.

They’ve wheeled him ’round and around the field,
‘Till they came unto a barn,
And there they’ve made a solemn oath,
On poor John Barleycorn.

They’ve hired men with the crabtree 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.

And little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl,
And the brandy in the glass,
And little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl,
Proved the strongest man at last.

The Huntsman, he can’t hunt the fox,
Nor so loudly blow his horn,
And the Tinker, he can’t mend kettle nor pot,
Without a little Barleycorn.

2 responses to “John Barleycorn Must Die

  1. I am looking for info about a tape I have had for several years. I bought it on the side of the road in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western NC from a small gathering of musicians at a cabin selling handmade dulcimers outdoors.
    The name is ” John Barleycorn Must Die “. It is surely Celtic, I love it and can find no other reference to the musical piece because it HAS NO WORDS. I would very much like to find out who recorded it and where I can go to hear it played live.
    I cannot find my tape anywhere, but I do remember the paper facing inside was in bright orange, not neon, and the lettering was black. There were many great tunes on this tape, and it opened up a wonderful new appreciation of this mountain music for me.
    Can you help ?
    J Ledbetter – Yadkinville, NC

  2. J, I don’t know where you can find your cassette. However, there are lots of great dulcimer players in WNC who sell recordings. They won’t have your song, but they will have more great dulcimer music:'s%20Recordings.htm

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