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Comin' Thro the Rye -- Robert Burns

(Poem #675) Comin' Thro the Rye
 O, Jenny's a' weet, poor body,
 Jenny's seldom dry;
 She draigl't a' her petticoattie
 Comin thro' the rye.

         Comin thro the rye, poor body,
              Comin thro the rye,
         She draigl't a'her petticoatie,
              Comin thro the rye!

 Gin a body meet a body
 Comin thro the rye,
 Gin a body kiss a body,
 Need a body cry?

 Gin a body meet a body
 Comin thro the glen,
 Gin a body kiss a body,
 Need the warld ken?
-- Robert Burns

a' weet: all wet
gin [g as in give]: if
draigl't a' her petticoattie: draggled (wet by trailing on the ground) all
                              her petticoats
ken: know

The first thing a typical English speaker will notice when introduced to
Burns's poetry is, of course, the dialect. However, once you get beyond
that, the most striking thing about his poems is how wonderfully musical
they are. Indeed, most of them practically sing themselves, and it is
unsurprising to learn that many (including today's piece) were actual song
lyrics rather than 'poetry'.

I also love the tone of today's piece, somewhere between playful and
earnest[1], though leaning towards the latter. Burns has captured the feel
of the setting and the moment perfectly, and done so in a few, simple words.
And despite its slightly plaintive air, I can see this working very well as
a drinking song :)

[1] calling once more on Piet Hein:
        Taking fun
          as simply fun
        and earnestness
          in earnest
        shows how thoroughly
          thou none
        of the two
                -- Hein, 'The Eternal Twins'


Salinger's classic 'Catcher in the Rye' owes its title to the protagonist's
misremembering the poem as 'Gin a body catch a body/ Comin thro the rye' -
the image of a 'catcher' in the rye stayed with him.

No less a person than the physicist James Clerk Maxwell parodied 'Comin'
Thro the Rye' in his 'Rigid Body Sings'

       Gin a body meet a body
       Flyin' thro the air,
       Gin a body hit a body,
       Will it fly? And where?
       Ilka impact has its measure
       Ne'er a' ane hae I
       Yet a' the lads they measure me,
       Or, at least, they try.

       Gin a body meet a body
       Altogether free,
       How they travel afterwards
       We do not always see.
       Ilka problem has its method
       By analytics high;
       For me, I ken na ane o' them,
       But what the waur am I?

                -- James Maxwell

[Ilka: each; Ane: one; Waur: worse]


The tune was a traditional Scottish one - sheet music and MIDI available at
[broken link]

Biography of Burns: poem #81


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