"John Barleycorn" as written by and Steve Winwood....
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, 'til the rains from heaven did fall
And little Sir John sprung up his head and so amazed them all
They've let him stand 'til midsummer's day 'til 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 their scythes so sharp to cut him off at the knee
They've rolled him and tied him by the way, serving him most barbarously
They've hired men with their sharp pitchforks who've 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 around and around a field 'til they came onto a pond
And there they made a solemn oath on poor John Barleycorn
They've hired men with their 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 and the nut brown bowl and his brandy in the glass
And little Sir John and the nut brown bowl proved the strongest man at last
The huntsman he can't hunt the fox nor so loudly to blow his horn
And the tinker he can't mend kettle or pots without a little barleycorn


Lyrics submitted by pablo

"John Barleycorn" as written by Steve Winwood

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

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John Barleycorn song meanings
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17 Comments

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  • +1
    General Commentthis is a realy old song if u pay attention to the lyrics closley its about making beer. barly is what they use to make beer out of so it shows all the stages of having to make it.
    alicecooperfan!!on March 27, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Commentyep, exactly alice, also i like the end, how sir john is the strongest. i thought there was a part about how he knocks the biggest men out.. hmm maybe there are a few varietys of the song.
    Doormanon October 28, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Commentbeer wow do i feel stupid
    kfe2on April 22, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIt’s about beer and all alcohol distilled from barley. But more then that, about three men trying to give up drinking and failing. The song is a ballad of alcoholism not beer for beer sake. The irony of this song is that Chris Woods (traffics sax player/flutist) died of alcohol poisoning. Think about it and read the lyrics again.
    bradburyesquon June 01, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis is a very old song, the earliest known version dating back to 1568.

    It is about the process of making beer from barley, and the last verses tell how important it is economically to England.
    fhuasgladhon June 06, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIm pretty sure that this song is about the distilation prosess. I listen to Alice Cooper as a D.J. and he said taht was what this song is about. And if Alice Cooper said it, it must be True.
    ImNeilYoungon April 14, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Commentif youre interested in the song, read Robert Burn's poetic version of the lyrics.
    AndreAndreon September 20, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentYes, superficially it IS about making beer. But the process is tied to the parable of Christ. "Unless a grain of wheat (or barley!) dies, it just remains a single grain. But IF it dies, it gives rise to thousands more just like it". So the process of making spirits (like beer) is paralleled with the process of being reborn in the spirit! As Benjamin Franklin once said "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy!". Amen!
    RayManon May 14, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General CommentA lot of folks are bringing up the alcohol angle, but I don't think that's the point; the song isn't focused on the making of alcohol; it's about the cultivation of grain. You don't grind grain to make alcohol; you sprout and sparge it.

    Presuming this is a "traditional" tune, it's a good example of a folk tune with cosmic significance.

    At the heart of it is the view that the world we inhabit is an interplay of life and death. Even the cultivation of grain involves death; the slashing down of the grain, bundling and transport, then grinding. And, of course, making alcohol/bread/porridge and so forth.

    So the song takes a long look at life on Earth and sort of laments death as a status quo part of the process. The willingness to apply this interpretation to something as eldrich and honorable as working the land for vegetable food is a clever device, and not a little melancholic; a sort of admission that, try as you might, there's no escape. The minor mode for the tune sort of helps drive this subtle sadness home.
    razajacon June 06, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis tune always threw me a little. You'd assume, from the title, that the protagonists (three men) would be attempting to overcome or eliminate alcoholism. It makes clear from the start, though, that it's a futile effort, that the destruction of barley (harvesting, milling, etc) is, in itself the process of making ale. Traffic either chose a slightly more obfuscated version or reworded it slightly, but another version (below) makes the point clear, particularly regarding the ale being 'IN' a nut brown bowl, ie: a plain vessel, as one would use when drinking home-brewed ale. In the end, ale wins out over the more refined/ expensive brandy. Another conclusion can also be drawn, that the three men initially intended to start a brandy distillery but realized it was a losing battle. There are several other, more spiritual/ mythological interpretations, and many different versions.

    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!

    Here's Little Sir John in a 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 huntsman he can't hunt the fox
    Nor loudly blow his horn,
    And the tinker can't mend kettles nor pots
    Without John Barleycorn!
    nyctuberon January 03, 2010   Link

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