Henry's Songbook

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Scots Wha Hae

  • (Trad / Robert Burns)

    Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled
    Scots, wham Bruce has aftimes led
    Welcome tae your gory bed
    Or to victorie

    Now's the day and now's the hour
    See the front o' battle lour
    See approach proud Edward's power
    Chains and slaverie

    Wha wad be a traitor-knave?
    Wha wad fill a coward's grave?
    Wha sae base as be a slave?
    Let him turn and flee

    Wha for Scotland's king and law
    Freedom's sword will strongly draw
    Free-man stand, or free-man fa'
    Let him follow me

    By oppression's woes and pains
    By our sons in servile chains
    We will drain our dearest veins
    But we shall be free

    Lay the proud usurpers low
    Tyrants fall in every foe
    Liberty's in every blow
    Let us do or dee

    (as sung by Hamish Imlach)

    Tune: Hey Tuttie Tattie

Susannes Folksong-Notizen

  • english [1900:] This masterpiece of passionate patriotism and martial exhortation, which an eminent critic has fairly described as "unparalleled in the annals of modern poetry, and equal to the happiest efforts of the brightest geniuses of antiquity", is as familiar to every native of Caledonia as is Rule Britannia to Englishmen of the Victorian age, or La Marseillaise to Frenchmen of the Third Republic. As a war song - memorial of the best day's work ever performed in Scotland - it stands first, without a second, in every printed repertory of native verse. Its strains never pall on the ear of the true-born Northman and there is no fear that its popularity will ever wane in the country to which the valiant and chivalrous Sir William Wallace owed his birth and for which that immortal hero of history and romance died a martyr's death. Nay, verily. So long, I do believe, as Scotland stands where she does, and so long as she has a name, and a history, and a tongue of which her children continue to be proud, so long will Burns's grand lyric protest against "proud Edward's power" and "chains of slavery" make the blood dance in men's veins and give strength to their arms. Dr. W. E. Henley, to be sure, has described it as "nothing better than a piece of patriotic rant". But even the past editor of the "National Observer" need not be always taken seriously. It looks big to break a lance with a giant - albeit a dead one. I' faith, it's magnificent rant; and that said, we can laugh at Dr. Henley's criticism. How about the origin and development of our most impassioned of war songs? [...] Mr. John Syme, one of the poet's intimate friends at Dumfries, tells a romantic story of the verses having been composed by Burns during a storm of thunder and lightning and rain among the hills of Glen Ken, in Galloway, in July, 1793. But this, the reader will observe, does not tally with the author's own account of the song's composition. Writing to George Thomson on the 1st of September in the same year, Burns says - "Many musical compositions, particularly those where much of the merit lies in the counterpoint, however they may transport and ravish the ears of your connoisseurs, affect my lug no otherwise than merely as melodious din. On the other hand, by way of amends, I am delighted with many little melodies which the learned musician despises as silly and insipid. I do not know whether the old air Hey tutti taittie may rank among the number; but well I know that with Frazer's hautboy it has often filled my eyes with tears. There is a tradition that I have met with in many places in Scotland that it was Robert Bruce's march at the Battle of Bannockburn. This in my yesternight's evening walk [the italics are mine] warmed me to a pitch of enthusiasm on the theme of liberty and independence, which I threw into a sort of Scottish ode fitted to the air that one might suppose to be the gallant Royal Scot's Address to his heroic followers on that eventful morning." Then the song is quoted, and the poet follows it with the exclamation - "So may God ever defend the cause of truth and liberty as he did that day! Amen!

    P.S. - I showed the air to Urbani, who was highly pleased with it, and begged me to write soft verses for it; but I had no idea of giving myself any trouble on the subject till the accidental recollection of that glorious struggle for freedom, associated with the glowing idea of some other struggles of the same nature, not quite so ancient, roused my rhyming mania." Strangely enough, Thomson objected to Hey tutti taittie, as being an air unworthy of the spirited words - "totally devoid of interest and grandeur" - and, lengthening the last line of each verse, he set the song to the tune of Lewie Gordon. [...] Burns at first accepted Thomson's alterations in the spirit, altering them in the letter [...], adding "I have borrowed the last stanza from the common stall edition of Wallace

    A false usurper sinks in every foe
    And liberty returns with every blow,

    a couplet worthy of Homer."
    In reply to this Thomson writes - "One word more with regard to your heroic ode. I think, with great deference to the poet, that a prudent general would avoid saying anything to his soldiers which might tend to make death more frightful than it is. 'Gory' presents a disagreeable image to the mind; and to tell them "Welcome to your gory bed" seems rather a discouraging address, notwithstanding the alternative which follows. I would suggest -

    Now prepare for honour's bed
    Or for glorious victorie."

    Burns answers - "My ode pleases me so much that I cannot alter it. Your proposed alterations would, in my opinion, make it tame. I am exceedingly obliged to you for putting me on to reconstructing it; as I think I have much improved it. Instead of "soger! hero" I will have it "Caledonian! on wi' me!" I have scrutinised it over and over; and to the world some way or other, it shall go as it is." It is fortunate that Thomson afterwards changed his mind, and, although in the second volume of his work, published in 1799, the song appeared set to the tune of Lewie Gordon, in the third volume, issued in 1802, he gave the words and air as Burns originally desired, acknowledging that, having examined Hey tutti taittie with more particular attention, he found it much better adapted for giving energy to the poetry. The ode as it sprang out of the first white heat of the poet's inspirational fervour - the form in which it has become familiar to every Scottish breast, and has inspired men to "dare" and "do" in all parts of the world - could not, surely, be easily improved on. Certainly the proposed lengthening of the last line of each stanza in the manner proposed by Thomson would have resulted in a positive weakening of the rare pith and marrow of the composition. [...] Burns had a fine ear not less for musical than for literary effect. And his knowledge of music, moreover, has been less noticed than it deserves. [...]

    [The song in its final form], it appears, was first printed in the "Morning Chronicle" in May, 1794 - eight months after the poet had sent the song to Thomson. Replying to Perry's offer of an engagement on that print, Burns wrote - "In the meantime, they are welcome to my ode; only let them insert it as a thing they have met with by accident and unknown to me." The ode accordingly appeared as stated, with this rather disingenuous prefatory note - "If the following warm, animating ode was not written near the time to which it applies, it is one of the most faithful imitations of the simple and beautiful style of the Scottish bards we ever read, and we know but of one living poet to whom to ascribe it." Faithful imitation, forsooth! The merest novice in criticism might perceive that there is nothing in the verses at all suggestive of the older Scottish bards. Indeed, but for a few verbal Scotticisms, the piece is in English, and in every sense is modern, original, and individual. Next, for comparison with the above let us [turn to] a version which is preserved in Burns's own handwriting, and is the property of Mrs. F. Locker-Lampson. [...] This is evidently the author's first draft - or a copy of that - "undoubtedly penned", says Scott Douglas, "on the 31st of August, 1793, immediately after the 'evening walk' above referred to."

    The alterations for the permanent copy [...] are not many, but all are important. The whole labour, however, and the shifting back and fore is chiefly interesting and instructive as illustrating the great pains which Burns took with his songs, to have them perfect if possible. There are people - ignorant, yet professing to know - who would have us regard Robert Burns as merely an inspired idler, a daidling, drunken bodie, from whom songs poured sans effort. What a slander! Consider all the skill and labour and care he manifested in the production of Scots wha hae alone. Many songs of less note cost him no less trouble, and every day of the last ten years of his life included a "stent" of song-making. And such songs!

    But still about Scots wha hae. A deal of bitter controversy - inspired by Mr. Andrew Lang - recently ranged around the point as to whether Burns, when he wrote the song, was under the impression that the English army was led by Edward I. The foundation for the notion that perhaps he did lies in the line

    See approach proud Edward's power

    And as the Edward who led - or, more correctly, was with - the hostile force was evidently a poor weakling, who had no more usurping power than a microbe, therefore it was assumed that the poet had confounded him with his father. But a hitherto unedited postscript to the song, appended to the holograph manuscript presented by the author to Dr. Hughes of Dumfries - and now through the kindness of Mr. Kennedy, of New York, in the Edinburgh Municipal Museum - settles this point, and shows that Burns knew what he was about quite as well as, if not better than, most of his clever critics. "This battle", says the poet in the manuscript referred to, "was the decisive blow which put Robert I., commonly called Robert de Bruce, in quiet possession of the Scottish throne. It was fought against Edward II, son of that Edward who shed so much blood in Scotland in consequence of the dispute between Bruce and Balliol." Of course, it should be clear to all that, although the English army here was headed by Edward II, it was the "power" that had been evoked by his father, the "proud Edward", that moved the ranks and had to be crushed at Bannockburn. Yea, verily, although he had been fully seven years in his grave, it was the spirit and venom of the cruel and usurping King who had hanged and quartered Wallace that were still manifesting themselves, and had to be beaten out by the Scottish claymores at the order of Robert Bruce. [...]

    The tune Hey tutti taittie - one of the oldest Scottish melodies extant - it is always interesting to bear in mind - admirable vehicle as it proves for the defiant energy of Scots wha hae - is the same, note for note, to which the plaintive and subdued Land of the Leal is sung. The change of accent is alone responsible for the widely differing effects.

    We have noted the criticism of Dr. Henley. An earlier than he, also, evidently regarded the ode as not all it might be, and not so good even as he could make it; and in the chapbooks published in the early years of the century it frequently appears, under the title of Bruce's Address, and thus introduced:

    Near Bannockburn King Edward lay
    The Scots they were not far away
    Each eye bent on the break of day
    Glimm'ring frae the east
    At last the sun shone o'er the heath
    Which lighted up the field of death
    While Bruce with soul-inspiring breath

    His heroes thus addressed:
    Then follows the ode as it came from the hand of Burns, while that again is succeeded by the following double stanza:

    Now fury kindled every eye
    Forward! Forward! was the cry
    Forward Scotland! do or die!
    And where's the knave shall turn?
    At last they all ran to the fray
    Which gave to Scotland liberty
    And lang did Edward rue the day

    He came to Bannockburn
    Comment were superfluous. (Ford, Histories 54ff)

  • english [1962:] Wildly improbable as [the association of the tune with the Battle of Bannockburn] is, the tradition had the merit of inspiring Burns to write this song to the tune, and in the process to create what is virtually Scotland's national anthem. (Buchan, Folksongs 149)

  • english [1967:] Burns' premonitions were justified in the event. Thomson liked his song but not the tune, and suggested many changes, actually only filler, watering it down to suit a tune with a different metre, which put Burns' back up till he refused to have anything further to do with it. In the altered form Thomson published it three years after Burns' death; but lived himself to regret the act, and restored the original on demand. (Bronson, Ballad 310f)

  • english [1980:] This was not written about Bruce and Bannockburn at all; it was written precisely and specifically about much more dangerous events, 'struggles', in Burns' words, 'not quite so ancient'. He was referring of course to the trials of the Friends of the People, of Thomas Muir, Palmer, Gerraed, Skirving and Margarot. [...] very often songs have to employ, in Lenin's words, 'Aesopian' language - the language of fable - to make their point in safety. (Norman Buchan in Cowan 158)

  • english [1986:] Robert the Bruce supposedly used the tune for the march at the famous battle of Bannockburn, on 24th of June 1314 in which the English army was defeated. (Conway, 100 Songs 12)

  • english [1988:] Jacobitism was the only political principle consistently present throughout [Robert Burns'] creative life. [...] His great hymn to liberty, Scots wha hae, the nearest thing we have to a national anthem, was inspired by the Jacobite rebellions. When he sent the impressario [sic] George Thomson a copy of the song, Burns stated: 'the accidental recollection of that glorious struggle for Freedom, associated with the glowing ideas of some other struggles of the same nature, not quite so ancient, roused my rhyming Mania.' This has sometimes been taken as a reference to the French Revolution, but how a song which celebrates the traditional theme of heroic independence under a line of native kings could be construed as an essay in republicanism is less than clear. A letter Burns sent to the Earl of Buchan along with another copy of the song, shows that Scots wha hae was inspired first and foremost by nationalistic fervour:

    Independent of my enthusiasm as a Scotchman, I have rarely met with any thing in History which interests my feelings as a man, equally with the story of Bannockburn.- On the one hand, a cruel but able Usurper, leading on the finest army in Europe, to extinguish the last spark of Freedom among a greatly-daring and greatly injured People; on the other hand, the desperate relics of a gallant Nation, devoting themselves to rescue their bleeding Country, or to perish with her.- Liberty! Thou art a prize truly & indeed invaluable! - for never canst thou be too dearly bought!

    The word 'Usurper' also featured prominently in the song. To an eighteenth century Scot, this had only one connotation, and it directly links the Wars of Independence with the Jacobite risings as heroic national struggles. It is not revolutionary libertarianism, but Scottish independence that is celebrated here. (Donaldson, Song 87)

  • german [1988:] Robert the Bruce war König der Schotten von 1306 bis 1329. Die Schlacht auf dem Feld von Bannockburn [...] stellte 1314 Schottlands Autonomie gegenüber England sicher. Robert the Bruce gilt deshalb, neben William Wallace (1305 in London hingerichtet), als einer der beiden Gründer des unabhängigen Königreiches Schottland. - Mit der Erinnerung an die siegreiche Schlacht von 1314 will Burns allerdings auch an aktuelle Themen anknüpfen. "Der Komponist Urbani", berichtet er in einem Brief an Thomson (30.4.1793), "bat mich, leichte Verse für diese Melodie zu schreiben. Dennoch hatte ich nicht die Absicht, mich mit dem Thema zu befassen, bis die zufällige Erinnerung an jenen glorreichen Freiheitskampf, verknüpft mit den glühenden Ideen eines anderen Kampfes gleicher Art, doch nicht ganz so lange her, meine Reim-Leidenschaft weckte." Die Französische Republik war 1793 gerade ein Jahr alt. (Camerer, Burns 233f)

Quelle: Scotland

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