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.

There exists much debate regarding the meaning of the words "Comin' thro' the rye".

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.
Also:
The rye certainly refers to the growing crop, not a district.
Also:
One can imagine also that, going with a fair companion through a rye-field, the temptation might, to many youthful minds, be strong to take a kiss from their sweetheart; but one can scarcely believe such a thing occurring to anyone in wading through a rivulet.

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.

It seems probable that the original song referenced the crop, Rye, and possible that Burns had in mind the river when he revised the song.

Perhaps the protagonists could agree that Burns used a fair amount of poetic licence when writing his version of this, much older song, whose full meaning may never be known.

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
All The Lads They Smile At Me

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


Coming Through The Rye Lyrics, Most Usually Sung (Ilka Lassie)

Even the "cleaner" version of the Burns lyrics (above) is quite bawdy, and it is this one, or an "anglicized" version of it, that is most commonly covered.

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

Chorus
Ilka lassie has her laddie
Nane, they say, hae I
Yet a' the lads they smile at me
When comin' thro' the rye.

Gin a body meet a body
Comin' frae the town
Gin a body kiss a body
Need a body frown?

Chorus

Gin a body meet a body,
Comin' frae the well,
Gin a body kiss a body,
Need a body tell?

Chorus

'Mang the train there is a swain
I dearly lo'e myself
But what his name or whaur his hame
I dinna care to tell

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
Wet Rye in a field
Field Of Wet Rye


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