View site in Scots
Flickr YouTube

Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

Tae gang free - a history of patriotic poetry in Scots

St Andrews dayDerrick McClure looks at the history of patriotic verse in Scotland.

On the day o our patron sanct, lat’s tak a scance at the weys our makars throu the yearhunners hae expremit thair pride in the nation o Scotland. 

Weel we ken at the Archdeacon o Aiberdeen, John Barbour, gied hailin an hailsin tae Robert Bruce in the foremaist bardrie tae kythe in the mither tung; an Blinn Harry folla’d him a seiventy-some year efterhins wi anither epic anent Weilam Wallace. 

But whan we seek amang the gret makars o the Stewarts’ kingrik for sangs in praise o Scotland, we’ll aiblins ferlie a wee tae finn hou scant thay are.  Henryson niver yaises the wirds Scotland or Scottis ava.  Dunbar is aye mair aiverie tae puist nor tae praise, an amang the things he hes a guid wird for we dinna finn his kingrik. 

Davie Lyndsay, nou, in his Dreme, has mony a braw thing tae say anent Scotland: “… this regioun, the quhilk of nature is boith gude and fair”.  Scotland hes a

… haboundance of fyschis in our seis,
And fructuall montanis for our bestiall,
And for our cornis, mony lusty vaill.

The ryche ryveris, pleasand and proffitabyll,
The lustie lochis with fysche of syndry kindis;
Huntyng, halkyng, for nobillis convenabyl, 
Forests full of da, ra, hartis and hyndis.
The fresche fontanys, quhose hoilsum cristel strandis
Refreschis so the fair flureist grene meidis,
So laik we no thing that to nature neidis.

An the gretest thing o aa about Scotland, Lyndsay is suir, is the fowk:

… [thair] is nocht, in al the mapamound,
More fairer peple, nor of gretar ingyne,
Nor of more strenth, gret deidis tyll indure.

But whit the cannie auld makar gaes on tae say is — whit wey is siccan a braw an fouthie kintra sae puir, an whit wey dis sic strang an skeelie fowk mak sae little o aa thair fordels?

For be my treuth, to se I thynk gret schame,
So plesand peple, and so fair ane land,
And so few verteous dedis tane on hand.

An his repone?  

Wantyng of justice, polycie and peace,
Ar cause of this unhappynes, alace!

Scotland is ill-guidit, wi nae steive an ferm governance: gin we hed, whit coud we no dae!  An wes it jist whan the ying James V hed taen up the rule o his puir kingrik at this wes true?  Lyndsay wes a patriot gin onybody wes: it was acause he lo’ed his kintra an its fowk at he wes sae gleg tae see whit ailed thaim; an we wad dae weel tae harken til him in our ain day.

Whan we come frae the auld kingrik tae the eichteent yearhunner, an finn Allan Ramsay ettlin tae set Scotland’s leid an leir back in its richtfu place amang the nations o the warld, we see anither ferlie: honest Allan screives muckle in praise o Scotland, but maistlins in English.  Edinburgh’s Address to the Country, Tartana, or The Plaid, Clyde’s Welcome to his Prince: ballants like thon wad gie ony Scotsman’s hert a heise, but thay’re no in the mither tung.  An thare nae diffeequalty in jalousin whit wey: Scotsmen dinna need telt hou braw their hameilt steid is, but Sasunnachs dis.  In thon poems he wes screivin for his English readars: for his ain fowk he hed a curnie ither things tae say.  In the mither tung he sang o the life o the Scots fowk: his bardrie is pang-fu o the vyce o the howffs an the ale-houses; ye can hear  the cracks an the clavers, the ploys an the splores at him an his freins divertit thairsels wi.  He gars ye ken hou braw it is tae be a Scot amang your brither Scots.   But nae mair nor Lyndsay wes Ramsay feart tae lay the wyte tae Scotland for failin tae be whit it shid be.  In his lang poem The Vision he uises the leid an the style o days lang bygane tae habble ye intae thinkin thon days is his theme:

Bedoun the bents of Banquo brae, 
Milane I wandert waif and wae,
Musand our main mischaunce;
How by thay faes we are undone,
That staw the sacred stane frae Scone,
And leids us sic a daunce:
Quhyle Inglands Edert taks our tours,
And Scotland ferst obeys,
Rude ruffians ransakk ryal bours,
And Baliol homage pays;
Throch feidom our freidom
Is blotit with this skore,
Quhat Romans or no mans
Pith culd eir do before.

But thay’re no, in course: the auld-farrant guisin isna lang o dernin his rael target, the ills o Scotland in his ain time.  In Rab Fergusson forbye, we finn muckle the samen thing. His crouse an heich-heidit ruisins for aathin at’s guid in the life o the Scots fowk gangs a wheen deeper nor Ramsay’s: Rab is as fain as Allan o rippets an rockins, but the daily-day darg is wordie o his praise forbye.  Here the hinmaist verse o his maisterwark, The Farmer’s Ingle.

Peace to the husbandman and a’ his tribe,
Whase care fells a’ our wants frae year tae year;
Lang may his sock and couter turn the gleyb,
And bauks o’ corn bend down wi’ laded ear.
May Scotia’s simmers ay look gay and green,
Her yellow har’sts frae scowry blasts decreed;
May a’ her tenants sit fu’ snug and bien,
Frae the hard grip o’ ails and poortith freed,
And a lang lasting train o’ peaceful hours succeed.

But he’s as fain as Allan forbye tae waement the tinsal o our independence:

Black be the day that e’er tae England’s grund,
Scotland was eikit by the Union’s bond!
An Rabbie Burns tells us himsel at richt frae the affset, he ettl’t tae screive for the weilfaur o Scotland:

E’en then, a wish, (I mind its pow’r),
A wish that to my latest hour
Shall strongly heave my breast,
That I for poor auld Scotland’s sake
Some usefu’ plan or book could make,
Or sing a sang at least.
The rough burr-thistle spreading wide
Amang the bearded bear,
I turn’d the weeder-clips aside,
An’ spared the symbol dear.
No nation, no station,
My envy e’er could raise:
A Scot still, but blot still,
I knew nae higher praise.

But whit wad we no gie for a claymore tae draw an a targe tae swirl whan we hear:

Fareweel tae a’ our Scottish fame!
Fareweel our ancient glory!
Fareweel e’en tae the Scottish name,
Sae famed in martial story!
Now Sark rins ower the Solway sand,
An’ Tweed flows tae the ocean,
Tae mark whaur England’s province stands:
Sic a parcel o’ rogues in a nation!

We needna tyne ony time ower the “here’s tae us, wha’s like us, damn few an they’re aa deid” kyn o patriotism at kythes ower aft in the nineteent yearhunner.  But wi the Scottish Renaissance we stert tae hear a new note: a dour an steive facin up tae the frichtsome state o Scotland, an a caa tae tak up airms for the strauchle tae mak it haill again.  Lewis Spence sings this note wi a douce an gentie tone, guisin his argiement wi bonnie symbols: hark tae his The Lost Lyon:

King Elshinner a ship he biggit,
Wi’ a heave-a-lowe, ye ho!
Cut frae the guid pine-wood and riggit
Wi’ hemp frae the Lowlands low,
Whare the lyart lint doth grow, ye ho!
And the lilt o’ the loom is slow.
O wae the axe that cut yon wood,
The loom that spun yon strand,
For King Elshinner’s galley guid
Sall never win to land!
The tempests gray o’ Norroway,
Yon etins fell and dour,
Hae blawn her hempen strands to strae,
And dung her decks to stour. 
Her seamen’s banes are Baltic’s stanes,
Their e’en are sirens’ play,
But her royal lyon prow remains —
To it the mermaids pray.
O see anither ship be biggit,
Wi’ a heave-a-lowe, ye ho!
Cut frae the guid pine-wood and riggit
Wi’ hemp frae the Lowlands low.
For whatna winds may blow, ye ho!
And whatna death ye dee,
The Lyon owre the faem maun go,
And Scotland keep the sea!

But Wullie Soutar’s symbol is mair ramsh an snell:

THE AULD HOOSE

There’s a puckle lairds in the auld house
Wha haud the wa’s thegither:
There’s no muckle graith in the auld house
Nor smeddum aither.
It was aince a braw and bauld house
And guid for ony weather:
Kings and lords thrang’d in the auld house
Or it gaed a’ smither.
There were kings and lords in the auld house
And birds o’ monie a feather:
There were sangs and swords in the auld house
That rattled ane anither.
It was aince a braw and bauld house
And guid for ony weather:
But it’s noo a scrunted and cauld house
Whaur lairdies foregather.
Let’s ca’ in the folk to the auld house,
The puir folk a’ thegither:
It’s sunkit on rock is the auld house,
And the rock’s their brither.
It was aince a braw and bauld house
And guid for ony weather:
But the folk maun funder the auld house,
And bigg up anither.

An Douglas Young draps the guise aathegither:

HIELANT COLLOGUY

What can ye shaw me here, i this land o the Scots ?
Breckans and maithie yowes and virrless stots,
tuim untentit crofts whaur aathing rots.
Is there nae richt fouth o growth by the side o the loch ?
Drains faaen in, parks fuggit and moch,
wuids clortit wi fozy stumps o birk and sauch.

Whatna larachs are thir wi the nettles atour ?
The hames o a race lang syne had virr and pouer,
but nou they belang a London capitalist boor.
Whaur are the fowk and the bestial suld be here ?
A by-gane Marquis soopit the countrie clear
a yearhunder syne to gie rowm to the grouse and the deer.

And the drover-lad, and the lass wi the milkin-pail ?
They’re awa wi the cou and the pleu, the yill and the kail.
Whaur the Sassenach comes the Hielant fowk maun skail.

But the toun at the heid—it luiks like a place o rank ?
Ou ay, wi a schule, twa hotels, three kirks, and a bank,
a Masons’ Lodge, and a castle let til a Yank.

Are there nae Scots fowk think lang til their ain track ?
An auntran ane i the Gorbals, Detroit, Iraq,
Lagos, or Leeds. But ae day we’ll aa win back.

Hae we aa wan back or nou?  Na, no by mony a mile.  Is the new ship an the new hous biggit?   Na, but thay’re biggin.  It tuik aa the warslin an tyauvin o the mauchty regiment o Renaissance screivars tae wauken us up, but we’re wauken nou; an we ken at thare muckle mair tae patriotism nor ceilidhs an Burns suppers.  A patriot sees mair clairlie nor maist, no jist whit’s guid about his kintra, but whit’s wrang wi’t; and steirs himsel tae makin it richt.  Gie the hinmaist wird for the day tae anither o the skyrie makars o the twintet yearhunner, Sydney Goodsir Smith.  Thare been mony a heicht an a howe atween 1940, whan he wrate this sang, an nou, an aiblins there wull be mair or we win free at lest; but the muisic’s no been pit tae seilence, an winna be again.

THE DARK DAYS ARE BY

O the winter’s bin lang, my luve, my luve,
Frae this northern lan the sun’s bin awa,
We’ve aa got weary o waitin, my luve,
For the days o thaw.
O the nichts ’ve bin lang, my luve, my luve,
The darkness o Scotlan for aa these years,
But yon’s the dawn liftin up, my luve,
An the end o tears.
The trees ’ve bin bare, my luve, my luve,
The fields ’ve lain black neth the lowrin sky,
But the green is bursting an spreadin, my luve,
For the dark days are by.
O the glory’s uprising, my luve, my luve,
Ye can hear Scotlan’s hert pulsin fierce wi the Spring,
They’ll not silence this music again, my luve,
Howeer they ding!
For we’ve waited owre lang, my luve, my luve,
As they wha’d thwart an constrain us ’ll see,
Aye, we’ve each the richt o a man, my luve,
Tae gang free!