Yesterday in this space I discussed the novel The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. The book's title was taken (kinda, sorta) from a poem by the eighteenth century Scottish poet, Robert Burns - a piece commonly called "Coming Through the Rye."
At one point toward the end of Salinger's novel, the central character, sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield, is having a conversation with his ten-year-old sister, Phoebe, a bright and assertive little girl whom he constantly refers to as "Old Phoebe." During the conversation, Phoebe lets her brother know that she is disappointed in him and somewhat angry because he has managed to get kicked out of yet another boarding school. She gives Holden a speech about his lack of ambition and interest in things, and then challenges him to name something that he would like to do with himself.
In response to Phoebe's challenge, Holden refers to the Burns poem which he misquotes into "If a body catch a body, coming through the rye." After Phoebe corrects him and tells him that it is "If a body meets a body, coming through the rye." Holden then goes on to explain to his little sister that he has this notion or idea or vision of thousands of children are playing in a field of rye that lies along the top of a steep cliff. He pictures himself having the duty to race about and catch the children as they get too close to the edge of the cliff - hence, the catcher in the rye. It is a fantasy that young Mr. Caulfield's psychoanalyst will undoubtedly explore with his patient at some point down the road.
There are several variations of "Comin' Thro' the Rye," but what follows is one of the more common versions. A bit of a glossary is also included at the end of the poem.
Comin' Thro' the Rye
by Robert Burns