John Barleycorn

British Folk Song


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

They laid him in three furrows deep,
Laid clods upon his head,
Then these three man made a solemn vow
John Barleycorn was dead.
Fa-la La-la it’s a lucky day!
Sing Fa-la La-a-lay-o
Fa-la La-la, it’s a lucky day!
Singin’ Fa-la La-la lay-o

The let him die for a very long time
Till the rain from heaven did fall,
Then little Sir John sprang up his head
And he did amaze them all. (Chorus)

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 so became a man. (Chorus)

They have hired men with the scythes so sharp,
To cut him off at the knee,
The rolled him and they tied him around the waist,
They served him barbarously. (Chorus)

They have hired men with the crab-tree sticks,
To cut him skin from bone,
And the miller has served him worse than that,
For he’s ground him between two stones. (Chorus)

They’ve wheeled him here, they’ve wheeled him there,
They’ve wheeled him to a barn,
And thy have served him worse than that,
They’ve bunged him in a vat. (Chorus)

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. (Chorus)

Song Notes

This song was seen in print in 1635 and has been maintained coherently up through today. Like “Handsome Cabin Boy,” very many artists across several musical genres have recorded this piece.

I first heard this tune on “Below the Salt” by Steeleye Span. Many of their “electronic folk” versions of traditional tunes were the basis for renditions by Renaissance Faire and SCA musicians alike. –
Dean Calin