Comin’ Thro’ the Rye Analysis and Summary by Robert Burns

About the Author: Robert Burns is one of the greatest and most celebrated Scottish writers and poet. Most of his poems are originally scout songs for children who have been prescribed and read as poems in the contemporary scenario and the larger context of educational relevance. Burns is considered the National Poet of Scotland and is a well-known figure in Scottish Literature and the overarching structure of English Literature. Burns was born on 25th January 1759 in Alloway, Scotland and is also popularly or fondly called and known as Robbie Burns. Other titles given to him are Scotland’s favourite son and Ploughman’s poet.

Much of his writing is in the English of those days with a little bit of Scottish dialect reflecting between the lines. He passed away on 21st July 1796. Considered as an important figure in the Romantic movement and he inspired the inventors of Liberalism and Socialism even after he passed away. He has made great efforts in establishing and necessitating culture in Scotland and hence is counted as one of the pioneer figures in Scottish Culture in Scotland and amongst the Scottish diaspora across the world. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, his work was celebrated on a great scale and he has influenced Scottish literature ever since. A well-known national figure, he was chosen as the greatest Scot by the Scottish public on television in 2009.

Comin’ Thro’ the Rye  Summary

Rye is essentially a kind of wheat grain or wheat germ grown in the fields. The poem has a Scottish accent and dialect working but reworking an easy English translation will help in understanding the poem better. The poet is witnessing a woman or maiden called Jenny, who is all wet in the rain. All the six paragraphs deal with her walking through the rye fields dragging all her petticoats, while being drenched in rain. Probably, Jenny is a maiden who works in the fields and the poet looks at her every day and hence he says, Jenny is seldom dry and she is always wet. The poet is awed by Jenny and desires her, although there is no line which makes the poet’s love for for Jenny clear. The poet’s male gaze is apparent and unblemished in the poem as he uses phrases like “Need a body meet a body… Need a body kiss a body” etc. Burns could also be aiming at breaking and destroying the taboos related and connected to sex or physical attraction in those days. That is why his initial questions in the second stanza are “Should a body meet a body..Should a body kiss a body”. The Scottish word for ‘Should’ is ‘Gin’. Mostly the dialect is pretty clear and the reader can derive the basic meaning of each sentence while reading. Though, there are translations available online.


The poem proceeds as follows : The first two stanzas is when the poet is watching Jenny, a young beautiful maiden, struggling to walk through the rye fields in the heavy rain that is pouring. The rain makes Jenny completely wet and as her dress sticks to her body completely, the poet notices her figure and is physically attracted to her. He recalls that it is often so that Jenny’s body gets wet in the rye fields. The lines about Jenny’s body being wet and her coming through the rye has a sexual connotation as well. Another meaning of the poem hence could be that the poet is making love to Jenny and she is having an orgasm, and her body being wet could be the sweating from the act. Since all the children’s songs and fairy tales have sexual and political connotations, it might be possible that this poem has a hidden sexual meaning as well. The evergreen theme of literature which is a lover suffering because of his beloved being unreachable (originally borrowed from the courtly poetry tradition in England) is also touched upon because after the poet says “need a body kiss a body…” he says, “need a body cry…”. The poem is repetitive more so because it was originally a scout song to be sung by children while the band is playing. As it must be clear by reading the poem and this summary, the poem has two meanings – the original and the alternative. The original one has sexual imageries and the alternative one makes this more explicit. The maiden the poet witnesses and notices is not identified anywhere in the poem or in any other poems of the same poet or genre. Although, from the legendary town of Dalry, North Ayrshire, there has been a Jenny referred to. The geographical setting of the poem “Comin’ thro’ the Rye’ describes the crossing of a ford through the Rye water at Drakemyre towards the northern part of the town, downstream from Ryefield House and is near from the congruence of the Rye with the river Garnock.

Comin’ Thro’ the Rye  Critical Analysis

Background, Context and History :

“Comin’ thro’ the Rye” was written in 1782 and to find one single original and true copy is difficult. There are numerous versions of this very poem and translations are hence, even more in number. The original version cannot be successfully read as reasoned by G.W. Napier and hence there are many different versions of this song. It was intentionally a song for children, like Grim’s fairy tales, with hidden meanings and connotations.

Style and Form :

The poem is essentially a song written for children and has been incorporated in a traditional style. It has been made into a poem much later for academic requirements. The melody used for this poem/song is the same is the famous Scottish minstrel, “Common’ Frae the Town”. It has been changed marginally from the tune of “Auld Lang Syne”. The clear difference between the two is in the tempo and rhythm to which they are sung. However, the melodic shape is almost identical. It is one of the best poems written by Robert Burns so much so that he is often associated and remembered by the same.

Deeper Meaning Association with the novel – Catcher in the Rye.

Comin’ Thro’ the Rye has gained almost all its audience and readership maybe because of Holden Caulfield’s misinterpretation in the novel – The Catcher in the Rye. While relating his fantasy to his sister Phoebe, he becomes the catcher in the rye who saves the children from falling from a cliff. During this, Phoebe corrects his mistake and says that the poem does not deal with a Catcher in the Rye but is about a girl named Jenny who meets her lover in the Rye, to “kiss” him or what is originally meant. She has got her underskirt wet, well for obvious reasons and his dragging her way through the rye which signifies that she is dragging herself back to the Puritanical society of those times. The title of the novel “The Catcher in the Rye written in 1951 by J.D Salinger has been borrowed from this poem because of Holden Caulfield’s misinterpretation and he keeps imagining some children playing at the edge of a cliff in a rye field and dreams that he rescues them from falling off. This analysis is shared by Anuradha. Do let us know what do you think about the poem!