Scottish Country Dancing Dictionary

Coming Through The Rye

Scottish Song By Robert Burns

Comin' Thro' The Rye is a poem written in 1782 by Robert Burns (1759-1796). The words are put to the melody of the Scottish Minstrel, Common' Frae The Town.

This is a variant of the tune to which Auld Lang Syne is usually sung - the melodic shape is almost identical, the difference lying in the tempo and rhythm.

G. W. Napier, in an 1876 Notes and Queries, wrote that,

The original words of "Comin' thro' the rye" cannot be satisfactorily traced. There are many different versions of the song. The version (below) which is now to be found in the Works of Burns is the one given in Johnson's Museum, which passed through the hands of Burns; but the song itself, in some form or other, was known long before Burns.

The protagonist, "Jenny", is not further identified, but there has been reference to a "Jenny from Dalry" and a longstanding legend in the Drakemyre suburb of the town of Dalry, North Ayrshire, holds that "comin thro' the rye" describes crossing a ford through the Rye Water at Drakemyre to the north of the town, downstream from Ryefield House and not far from the confluence of the Rye with the River Garnock.

When this story appeared in the Glasgow Herald in 1867, it was soon disputed with the assertion that everyone understood the rye to be a field of rye, wet with dew, which also fits better with other stanzas that substitute "wheat" and "grain" for "rye". An alternative suggestion is that "the rye" was a long narrow cobblestone paved lane, prone to puddles of water.

It is perhaps worthy of note that the Rye Water ford at Drakemyre is just 23 miles (37km) from the Brig O' Doon, made famous in the Tam O' Shanter poem, also written by Robert Burns.

The title of the novel The Catcher In The Rye (1951) by J. D. Salinger comes from the poem's name. Holden Caulfield, the protagonist, misinterprets a part of this poem to mean "if a body catch a body" rather than "if a body meet a body." He keeps picturing children playing in a field of rye near the edge of a cliff, and him catching them when they start to fall off.


Related Scottish Country Dances

Coming Through The Rye

Coming Through The Rye Lyrics By Robert Burns

O, Jenny's a' weet, poor body,
Jenny's seldom dry:
She draigl't a' her petticoatie,
Comin thro' the rye!

Chorus
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?

Chorus

Gin a body meet a body
Comin thro' the glen
Gin a body kiss a body,
Need the warl' ken?

Chorus

Gin a body meet a body
Comin thro' the grain;
Gin a body kiss a body,
The thing's a body's ain.

Chorus


Meaning Of The Unusual Words:

weet = wet
draigl't = draggled
gin = given, in the sense of "if"
cry = call out [for help]
warl = world
ken = know
ain = own


Coming Through The Rye Poem Video

Coming Through The Rye Poem - Information Video
The Ford Across The Rye Water Image
The Ford Across The Rye Water


The Online Scots Dictionary Translate Scots To English.
Dance Information licensed under this Creative Commons Licence.
Text from this original Coming Through The Rye article on Wikisource.
Image Copyright Rosser1954 Roger Griffith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Back to the top of this 'Coming Through The Rye Poem' page