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!
Well, they've ploughed,
They've sown, they've harrowed him in
Threw clouds upon his head
Till these three men were satisfied
John Barleycorn was dead
They've let him lie for a long long time
Till the rains from heaven did fall

And little sir John sprang up his head
And so amazed them all
They let him fly till the midsummer's day
Till he looked both pale and wan, oh
Then little Sir John has grown a long long beard
And so became a man

They have hired men with the scythes so sharp
To cut him off at the knee,
They rolled and they tied him around the waist
Serving him most him barbarously
They hired men with the sharp pitchforks
To prick him to the heart
And the loader he has served him worse than that
For he's bound him to the cart

Well, they've wheeled him 'round and 'round the field
Till they came onto a barn
And there they made their solemn oath
Concerning a Barleycorn
They hired men with the crab tree sticks
To split him skin from bone, yeah
But the miller he has served him worst and bad
For he ground him between two stones

Well there's beer all in the barrel
And brandy in the glass,
But little old sir John with his nut-brown bowl
Proved the strongest man at last
John Barleycorn, throw him up, throw him up!

Now the huntsman, he can't hunt the fox
Nor loudly blow his horn
And the tinker he can't mend his pots
Without John Barleycorn,
John Barleycorn, John Barleycorn
Barleycorn, Barleycorn
John Barleycorn, John Barleycorn

Lyrics submitted by pablo, edited by MarshallLloyd

John Barleycorn Lyrics as written by Steve Winwood

Lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

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John Barleycorn song meanings
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  • +2
    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 28, 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
  • +1
    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
  • +1
    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
  • +1
    General CommentI should have read my post before adding it. The song says "And little Sir John and the nut brown bowl and his brandy in the glass," and if you Google "barley brandy" you find lots of recipes for barley wine and that can be distilled into a barley brandy, as brandy is distilled spirits made with wine. As for the political aspects, I don't doubt you folks are right about some of that.
    Samphonicon January 30, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General Commentbeer wow do i feel stupid
    kfe2on April 23, 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 21, 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 15, 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

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