"Comin' Thro' the Rye" is a poem and song written in 1782 by Robert Burns (1759-1796). The poem itself makes use of a large amount of sexual imagery, telling about a young woman, "Jenny", who consummates with other "bodies" in the rye, where the rest of the "warld" (world) doesn't "ken" (know), presumably quite often. It discusses the skirting of authority's influence that occurs in hidden places. It has a strong connection to the novel The Catcher in the Rye: Holden Caulfield mishears the title, thinking that the lyrics are instead "If (gin) a body catch a body comin' thro' the rye."
Comin thro' the rye, poor body, Comin thro' the rye, She draigl't a' her petticoatie Comin thro' the rye. Oh Jenny's a' weet, poor body, Jenny's seldom dry, 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. Gin a body meet a body Comin thro' the glen; Gin a body kiss a body Need the warld ken! Oh Jenny's a' weet, poor body, Jenny's seldom dry, She draigl't a' her petticoatie Comin thro' the rye.
The Catcher in the RyeEdit
If a Body Catch a Body Edit
In chapter 16, the source of the novel's cryptic title is uncovered when Holden listens to a small boy walking on the street singing the (incorrect) lyrics to the song while Holden was on his way to find Phoebe. Holden says that hearing the boy sing in his "pretty little voice" made him feel less depressed. He had just been thinking about the humble nuns he had donated to earlier, who never went anywhere "swanky" for lunch, and this made him sad. The boy's childhood innocence is punctuated by the calming description Holden gives of the boy:
"The kid was swell. He was walking in the street, instead of on the sidewalk, but right next to the curb. He was making out like he was walking a very straight line, the way kids do, and the whole time he kept singing and humming... He was just singing for the hell of it, you could tell. The cars zoomed by, brakes screeched all over the place, his parents paid no attention to him, and he kept on walking next to the curb and singing 'If a body catch a body coming through the rye'." -J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, page 115
Holden's Wish Edit
When Phoebe, who Holden loves the most in his family (and possibly the world), forces Holden to answer the question as to what he wants to be in life, Holden begins by doing his usual escape maneuvers: He goes off on a bit of a tangent, talking about how if he were a lawyer he wouldn't know whether or not he was a phony. Eventually though, his mind wanders back to that child he say singing "Comin' Thro' the Rye". Holden believes that the only thing he could happily be is the "catcher in the rye" - he would save children from falling off the cliff of adulthood and losing their innocence that he idolizes so much. This is the overarching theme of the novel: how Holden regards childhood, both his own and the children he sees. An example of him trying to be the "catcher" is when he is wandering around Phoebe's school, scratching out obscenities he finds in the walls. He wanted Phoebe and all the other kids to stay ignorant of this 'adult' and corrupting word.