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The Song Scots, Wha Hae


In 1793 poet and song collector Robert Burns (1759-1796) took the traditional tune Hey Tuttie Tatie and wrote a song for it called Scots, Wha Hae. The song was about Robert Bruce addressing his soldiers at Bannockburn. The theme of the song – political liberty – clearly nodded toward the French Revolution and Scottish aspirations for reform, but as such was a dangerous piece for Burns to compose in the 1790’s. So much so that when it was published in the Morning Chronicle in 1794 Burns could not publically acknowledge it. In the decades following, the song was republished and quickly became the song of choice for Scottish Radicals at their open air meetings.

The language of the song is somewhat curious. At first glance it looks very Scots, but the fashion of the time was to adapt English grammar and Scotticise the words. The title Scots, Wha Hae is the English ‘Scots, who have’ but in spoken Scots then, as now, people would have said ‘Scots that haes’. Also, Burns used spellings such as ‘ow’ which were pronounced in Scots speech as ‘oo’ while the rhyming scheme shows that the spelling ‘die’ is pronounced as Scots dee.  Over the years slightly altered versions of the song have appeared. The original version of the song from 1793 is as follows:

Scots, wha hae wi’ Wallace bled,

Scots, wham Bruce has aften led,

Welcome to 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 will be a traitor knave?

Wha can 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.

Freeman stand or freeman fa’,

                         Let him follow me!

By oppression’s woes and pains,

By your sons in servile chains.

We will drain our dearest veins,

                        But they shall be free!

Lay the proud usurpers low!

Tyrants fall in every foe!

Liberty’s in every blow!

                        Let us do or die!