BURNS’ SEASON: “The Rigs o’ Barley”

It was upon a Lammas night,      (harvest festival)
  When corn-rigs are bonie,
Beneath the moon's unclouded light,
  I held awa'to Annie;
The time flew by, wi' tentless heed    (carefree)
  Till tween the late annd early,
Wi' sma' persuasion she agreed
  To see me through the barley.

Chorus
Corn rigs, an' barley rigs,
  An' corn rigs are bonie:
I'll ne'er forget that happy night,
  Amang the rigs wi' Annie.

The sky was blue, the wind was still,
  The moon was shining clearly;
I set her down wi' right good will,
  Amang the rigs o' barley:
I ken't her heart was a' my ain;
  I lov'd her most sincerely;
I kissed her owre and owre again,
  Amang the rigs o'barley.

Chorus

I lock'd her in my fond embrace;
  Her heart was beating rarely:
My blessings on that happy place,
  Amang the rigs o' barley!
But by the moon and stars so bright,
  That shone that hour so clearly!
She ay shall bless that happy night
  Amang the rigs o' barley. 

Chorus 

I hae been blythe wi' comrades dear;
  I hae been merry drinking;
I hae been joyfu' gath'rin' gear;   (making money)
  I hae been happy thinking:
But a'the pleasures a' I saw, 
  Tho' three times doubl'd fairly-
That happy night was worth them a', 
  Amang the rigs o' barley.

Corn rigs an' barley rigs,
  An' corn rigs are bonie:
I'll ne'er forget that happy night 
  Amang the rigs wi' Annie.

First printed in the Kilmarnock Edition 1786.
Tune: Corn Rigs are Bonie. 

 
Even for an aging puritan like myself there is something irresistible about this song!  There is the wondrous delight it gives of young love mutually shared! Also,there is that wonderful open-air quality to this poetry, with the wonderful moonlit Lammas night at harvest time, the unclouded light, the stars so bright. So the  -"lock'd in my fond embrace" does not suggest only constrictedness but rather a sense of unity between the vast airy, outer world of moon, stars, fields and the concentrated world of the lovers, where "her heart was beating rarely". The lovers, concentrated in their togetherness, are also held by the vast, living universe around them.
Of course  with my critical awareness I could also add that the fate of the young woman might well become similar to that of the despondent voice of "Ye Banks and Braes". The future might become another story. 
Yet the poem is triumphantly true to the delight of the moment and for readers, like myself that joy cannot be vanquished.


Published by alan

As a retired lecturer in English Literature with the Open University I continue to run reading groups on our literary heritage. This blog seeks to interest readers in enjoying and thinking about a wide range of classic novels, plays and poems

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