The great Scot poet Robert Burns is not exactly a household name in the 21st century, outside of the yearly St. Andrew society dinners around the world. He did get a Google doodle a few years ago that called out his poem, "My Luve is like a red, red rose/That's newly sprung in June."
He will never be entirely forgotten, because one of his poems-—better known with its raunchy lyrics cleaned up for a children's song—is tied to one of the most famous novels of the 20th century:
"You know that song 'If a body catch a body comin' through the rye'? I'd like — "
"It's 'If a body meet a body coming through the rye'!" old Phoebe said. "It's a poem. By Robert Burns."
"I know it's a poem by Robert Burns."
She was right, though. It is "If a body meet a body coming through the rye." I didn't know it then, though.
"I thought it was 'If a body catch a body,'" I said."The same song that inspired JD Salinger and his character has been recorded many times. These are all must-listens.
Holden Caufield in Catcher in the Rye
Karen Carpenter & John Denver
The Carpenters Very First Television Special was on December 8, 1976. It has the most extraordinary medley of Comin' thro the Rye with the Beach Boys's Good Vibrations. Surely one of the strangest medleys in pop music history, but it works musically and a true duet for these two consummate singers. A real treat.
Ava Gardner in Mogambo
I prefer the 1932 Red Dust, but its 1953 remake with Grace Kelley and Ava Gardner vying for the love of Clark Gable has the distinction of Ava singing Comin' thro' the Rye, "a bit of home."
Her 1944 version on The Bell Telephone Radio show is exquisite. The announcer raises the whole "is rye a field of wheat or a river" issue. Before The Catcher in the Rye, people thought the rye was a river, probably based on the first stanza of the underlying poem
O, Jenny's a' weet, poor body,
Jenny's seldom dry:
She draigl't a' her petticoatie,
Comin thro' the rye!
that Jenny is wet from wading across a small Rye river, dragging her petticoat, to meet her lover. Later pundits dispute this, maybe influenced by Salinger. I think the strongest argument that Burns did not intend a river is that he did not capitalize it, and he was a stickler for his punctuation.