Sunday, June 29, 2008

John Barleycorn, A Song of Faith

I have heard a lot of discussions about earthly suffering. Why do the good suffer? Why do the wicked prosper? Usually, the answers are very satisfying intellectually, until I read about a Nazi war criminal getting out of prison, or see some unheralded lowlife cutting a swath of destruction with seeming impunity. What is usually said is that the world is a place of falsehood, that in the world of truth, that which is mysterious will all become very clear. What always resonates with me is the idea that we are supposed to institute justice ourselves in this existence so the world will be less random in its justice and fairness. This takes the ball out of G-d's court and throws it back to us. It is such an emotionally laden issue that I revisit it constantly. When Shalhevet Pas was killed in Hebron, when I visited a holocaust survivor who had buried his surviving child, these were times when the randomness of the world challenged my belief system.
Back in high school, I used to listen to a song performed by traffic called John Barleycorn Must Die. I enjoyed the music but gave no thought to the lyrics. The song gives sprouting barley the name of John Barleycorn, and follows its progress through the harvest cycle. It describes the barley being buried and sprouting from the soil.
In tones of profound and uncomprehending sadness it describes the barley being cut and bound. It describes the beating of the stalks and the kernels being ground to dust. The observer describes all he sees with great sorrow. At the end of the song describes a warm loaf of bread and glass of brandy that have been made from the ground barley. The last verse makes sense of all that had transpired earlier in the song.
There is certain mental imagery that goes with a song. When I play this song, I flash back onto all of the unexplained human suffering that challenges faith. The first time I made the mental connection, I was driving when the song was playing. I had to pull over to compose myself. The music gave wings to a concept I had struggled with. Even though this song is filed in the record stores as secular music, I personally classify it as a religious allegorical song. I can only say that it been a consolation for that which is senseless in my own life. I am reprinting the lyrics below. You can click on the video above to listen to it as well.

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 waist 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 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 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
copyright 2008 on comments only Song and lyrics by Traffic video from You Tube Sphere: Related Content

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