'Comin' Thro the Rye'

Robert Burns' Poem

The Catcher in the Rye
The Catcher in the Rye. Little Brown & Co.

The poem "Comin Thro' the Rye" by Scottish writer Robert Burns (1759–1796), is probably best known because of Holden Caulfield's misinterpretation of it in J.D. Salinger's novel "The Catcher in the Rye." Instead of "meeting" a body in the rye, he remembers it as "catching" a body. Discussing the poem with his sister, Phoebe, Holden tells her a fantasy that he is a rescuer of children playing in a field of rye, and he is catching them before they fall off a cliff.

The reference to the poem in "The Catcher in the Rye" has prompted writers and scholars to take a look at the source when discussing the novel. The poem was written with a Scottish dialectdraigl't translates to dragsweet to wetgin to when or if, depending on the interpretation; ilka to  every; loe to lovewaur to worse off; and ken to know. Depending on the source, the last line of the second verse has a period or a question mark, and the third verse has a question mark or an exclamation point. Note: The second setting wasn't signed by Burns but is widely accepted as being by him.

Poem Text

Comin Thro' the Rye

[First Setting]

Comin thro the rye, poor body,
Comin thro the rye,
She draigl't a'her petticoatie,
Comin thro' the rye.

Chorus:
O, Jenny's a' weet, poor body,
Jenny's seldom dry;
She draigl't a' her petticoattie
Comin thro' the rye.

Gin a body meet a body
Comin thro' the rye,
Gin a body kiss a body—
Need a body cry. [To chorus]

Gin a body meet a body
Comin thro' the glen,
Gin a body kiss a body,
Need the warld ken! [To chorus]

[Second Setting] 

Gin a body meet a body, comin thro' the rye, 

Gin a body kiss a body, need a body cry; 

Ilka body has a body, ne'er a ane hae I; 

But a' the lads they loe me, and what the waur am I. 

Gin a body meet a body, comin frae the well, 

Gin a body kiss a body, need a body tell; 

Ilka body has a body, ne'er a ane hae I, 

But a the lads they loe me, and what the waur am I. 

Gin a body meet a body, comin frae the town, 

Gin a body kiss a body, need a body gloom; 

Ilka Jenny has her Jockey, ne'er a ane hae I, 

But a' the lads they loe me, and what the waur am I. 

How the Poem Relates to 'Catcher in the Rye'

The poem's theme is the question of whether casual sex is OK. "Meeting" a body in a field isn't just running across someone and saying hello. The poem asks "Need a body cry?" as in—"Is it worth getting upset over?"

This relates to Salinger's novel because the sex question is a source of moral conflict inside the 16-year-old Holden. Saving children from falling off a cliff, then, in his fantasy, can be equated to helping children keep their innocence as long as possible.