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John Barleycorn - Chords, Lyrics and Origins

Origins

This classic song, recorded by - amongst others - Martin Carthy and Dave SwarbrickTrafficPaul Weller and Bert Jansch, is ostensibly about the cycle of growing and then reaping barley and making it into bread. However, at a deeper level, some see it as an allegory for the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Like Christ, Barleycorn is born, is abused, suffers death and is then resurrected (as bread). You can find out more about this by reading this excellent Wikipedia article about John Barleycorn. Early versions of the lyrics date back at least to the sixteenth century, and the song may well be older than that. If you haven't already heard it, I'd recommend listening to Tim Van Eyken's 'Barleycorn', which has more or less the same lyrics as the standard version, but a different tune / chords. You can find it on his "Stiffs, Lovers, Holymen, Thieves" album.  The version in the video on this page is by Traffic.

Chords

Introduction

A - C - D - Em

A - C - D - Em


Verse

Em      A                 Em             C    D         Em

There were three men came out of the west,

          A             C    D  Em
Their fortunes for to try;

        A                  Em                 C D       Em
And these three men made a solemn vow -

          A        C       D       Em
John Barleycorn must die.

              
G                                                      Em
They've ploughed, they've sown, they've harrowed him in,

            G          A           Bsus4       B
Threw clods upon his head,

        Am               Em                 C  D      Em
And these three men made a solemn vow -

          A        C       D     Em
John Barleycorn was dead.


Repeat Introduction between verses

Lyrics

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 ploughed, they've sown, they've harrowed him in,
Threw clods upon his head,
And these three men made a solomn 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 the scythes so sharp
To cut him off at the knee;
They've rolled him and tied him by the waist -
Serving him most bararously.
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
'T'il they came unto a barn,
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 he's 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 nor pots
Without a little barleycorn.

Other English Folk Songs
Other Traditional Folk Songs