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Pioneer Life in Zorra
Chapter XII. Pioneer Songs


"My mither's sangs, my mither's sangs, I think I hear them still
Sweet memories o' my childhood! my very soul they thrill
They bring me back my youthfu' days, and I feel young once more,
As I lilt the auld Scotch sangs again, my mither sang before,
As I lilt the auld Scotch sangs again, my mither sang before." —JOHN IMRIE.

SOMEONE has said, "Let me make the songs of a people, and I care not who makes their laws." Doubtless the songs of a people both indicate their character and help to develop that character. And the days of the bard are not yet passed away. The present is an age of materialism and utilitarianism, but never was the world more controlled by poetry than to-day.

A short time ago Rudyard Kipling lay on what was feared to be his death-bed. Around that bed there stood, in anxiety and tears, the whole civilized world. And why? Emperor William expressed the heart of Christendom when he telegraphed his sympathy to him as the poet who had "sung about the deeds of our great common race." Kipling's "Recessional" will perhaps do more than anything else written during the present century to ameliorate the condition of the laboring man.

No country in the world can boast of a grander race of poets than Scotland; and no people in the world have shown more of the poetic temperament than the Highlanders of that far-famed isle.

In the breasts of our Scottish pioneers there burned a poetic fire which hard work and "hamely fare" could not quench. Amid what many would consider unfavorable environments, their lives were happy and joyous. They brought with them many of the songs of the old land, and they were not without "minor bards" of their own, who, according to their gifts, sang of church and state, love and adventure.

The songs I used to sing,
Wong Scotland's heathery hills
Lose not their, charm with age—
Their melody still thrills;
And echoing from each crag and fell,
Still hold my soul in love's sweet spell."

The object of this chapter is to present some of these songs, sacred and secular, to the reader. Of the sacred songs or hymns sung by the pioneers, none outside the Psalms and paraphrases were so popular as the religious poems or songs of Dugald Buchanan and Peter Grant. These songs were called oranan, a Gaelic word no doubt of common origin with the Greek word oranos, heaven.

These oranan show little poetic fire, but they are, nevertheless, charming verses in which evangelical truth is presented in clear, effective language.

Buchanan, instead of selecting a variety of subjects, muses on the general subject of religion, after the manner of Tennyson in "In Memoriam."

Here are some of Peter Grant's subjects "The Love of My Redeemer," "The Blood of the Lamb," "Calvary," "Eternal Home,"" Everlasting Misery," "The State of Nature," "The Joy of the Righteous," "The Cry of the Martyrs," "The Judgment Day," "The Song of the Missionaries," "The Bible," "The Complaint of the Highlander," "Counsel to the Young."

We give the following from Grant:

Translated thus:

O Lord the God of glory, the Supreme King over all people. How bold to celebrate thy name so great, with unclean lips.

The greatest angels by Thee created, how weak their strength! How obscure their vision!

How ignorant of thy vast works! How short of thy glory, their praise!

In view of thy pure eyes, the loftiest stars are unclean. The holiest angels in glory are not in the presence of thy greatness, without stain.

Here is a sample of the patriotic songs that were favorites at one time in Zorra. It is entitled:

"THE HEATHER HILLS.

"How gladsome is the sea
Wi' its heaving tide!
How bonnie are the plains
In their summer pride.

But the sea wi' its tide,
And the plains wi' their rills,
Are no half so dear as my heather hills.
I contentless muse on the flowery lea,
I can heedless look on the siller sea,
But my heart wi' its nameless rapture thrills
As I gaze on the steeps of my heather hills.

Chorus

"Then, Hurrah! Hurrah for my heather hills!
Where the bonnie thistles wave to the sweet bluebells;
Where the wild mountain flood
Heaves his crest to the cloud,
Syne foams down the steeps of my heather hills."

Here are a few verses of a martial song, once very popular:

"Charge, ye noble-hearted heroes,
Make the tyrants backward reel
On, as did your dauntless fathers,
With their trusted Highland steel!

"Charge, for Scotland's stainless honor
Round her deathless laurels twine
Make her golden page of glory
With unfading lustre shine!

"Yours the straths of purple heather,
Yours the mountain and the glen
By your valor let despots know
That these nurse but gallant men.

"To the pibroch proudly sounding
On they bound with hardy pride;
In the van the claymore flashes,
Foemen fall on every side."

After each verse there was usually sung the following chorus:

Charge, ye Scottish braves, in triumph,
Burst the proud oppressor's chains
Like your own immortal Wallace,
Noble blood rolls through your veins."

The question has been asked, "Why do Highlandmen wear kilts?" Various answers have been given. This is certain, the Highlander's admiration for his native costume is both poetical and powerful. A few years ago a missionary from one of the Pacific isles was describing, before a congregation in London, Ontario, the costume of the natives. He spoke of it as being scanty, even more so than the kilts of the Highlanders. At the close of his address an aged Gaelic mother came up, warmly shook the missionary's hand, asking, "Did ye say that the people wore kilts?" "Well, yes, ma'am, it is something like that!" The good woman closed her eyes, folded her hands, and devoutly exclaimed: "The Lord be thankit the Gospel is makin' sic progress!"

The following characteristic incident is related of the late Sir John A. Macdonald. The Premier, talking once with a friend on the peculiar customs of different people, stated that on a visit to the West a reception was given him, at which a Bishop from Belgium was present. As the party were being escorted by a body of men in Highland costume, the foreign Bishop, seeing the bare legs and kilts, asked why the men were without trousers.

"It's just a local custom," gravely replied Sir John. "In some places people take off their hats as a mark of honor to distinguished guests; here they take off their trousers."

The cynic has sometimes charged that Highlanders wore kilts only because, having on one occasion fled from the enemy, to punish them their mothers, wives, and sweethearts took away their trousers. To redeem their character and to regain their clothing they have ever since fought bravely.

Other evil disposed persons claim that Highlanders wear kilts simply on the ground of economy. One thing is sure, the Highlander is devotedly attached to his native costume.

A good many years ago there was in some quarters an agitation to change the military costume of the Highlanders for the common colors of the British soldier. The agitation aroused the keenest opposition on the part of the whole Celtic world, as the following song will indicate:-

THE TARTAN.

"Come, Scottish men an' Scottish maids,
Put on your tartan, kilts an' plaids,
An' dock yoursel's wi' braw cockades,
An' stand up for the tartan.

"Let foreign birkies gape an' stare
At Scotland's sons in garb sae rare,
We still will laugh at them an' wear
Our ain world-famous tartan.

"It is the garb our fathers wore
Wi' patriot pride in days o' yore,
An' won on mony a foreign shore
Bright honors in the tartan.

"Upon the field o' Waterloo,
When bullets thick as hailstones flew,
Our plaided pipers loudly blew
Tae cheer the lads in tartan.

"An' when the cavalry o' France
In floods o' valor did advance,
In vain their fiery steeds did prance
Around our squares o' tartan.

"The Scottish lads in close array
Stood man tae man upon that day,
An' thick as leaves the Frenchmen lay
Around our squares o' tartan.

"Thrice glorious, garb o' Scotland brave
Forever let the tartan wave
'Tis Freedom's flag, for ne'er a slave
E'er wore the bonnie tartan.

"Come rally then frae Tweed tae Spey,
Ye Scottish lads an' lassies gay,
An' wi' one voice declare for aye
Tae still preserve the tartan."

I subjoin what was once well-known in Zorra as "The Hielan'man's Toast":

"Here's to the hills, the heath, and the heather,
The bonnet, the plaidie, the kilt, and the feather
Here's to the heroes that Scotland can boast,
May their names never dee—that's a Hielan'man's toast."

A good deal has been said about the pioneer's fondness for drink. This is no doubt true of some, but that the general community realized the evils of over-indulgence is evident from the popularity of a song, the first verse of which I here give:

"Chan e uisge-beatha ach uisge-bas
An t-uisge chradh mo chridhe 's mo chom
An t-uisge a dh'fhag mo cheanna liath
An t-uisge a dh'f hag na ceudan lom."

Which may be thus freely translated:

"The water of life! no, not at all!
The water of death, 'twere better to call
That which so oft has racked my head,
That which leaves thousands lacking bread."

Love songs were, among the young people, the most popular. Some of these took the medley form, being part English and part Gaelic. Here is a sample:

"As sure as I'm a'sinner, I never propose
To have you decoyed no t-fhagail fo bhron
Oir ni mi do phosadh gun mhearachd gun gho
'S-gur cinnteach thu do chaidreamh o'n chailin donn Og."

Gaelic in second line—"nor leave you in sorrow.'
Third line—"I will marry you without mistake or deceit."
Fourth line—"Fellowship from the young brown-haired damsel is to you a certainty."

To the medley belongs the following well- known verse:

"When Eve, in all her loveliness,
Appeared to Adam's view,
The first word that he said to her
Was "Cia mar tha sibh an diugh."

The experience of a rollicking lover, before and after marriage, was thus expressed in an old pioneer song; before marriage he gaily sings:

"My name is Dick Thompson, the cobbler,
I served my time at Percant,
I know I'm an old depredator,
But I am resolved to repent.
. . . . . . . .

Twenty long years I've been roving,
I've spent the prime of my life;
But now I'm resolved to gie over
And cuttle myself to a wife."

Well, he gets married, and after a while what a change! Here is how he expresses himself:

"My wife she is ugly, she's lazy,
She's dirty, she's towsie, shes black,
She's the de'il for brawling and scolding,
Her tongue is forever click-clack.

"And now we'll be parted forever;
This morning before it is light,
I doused her three times in the river,
I cursed her, and bade her good-night."

One of the finest love songs I have come across, either in Gaelic or in any other language, is called "Handsome Mary." The song is ascribed to J. McDonald, a Gaelic bard of the last century, in Ross-shire. It is too long to insert the original, but I give an excellent English translation of three verses of it by the late Evan MacColl. The references to the lark thrush, cuckoo, sea-gull, and to the beautiful in nature, are exquisitely happy. Only those who know the difficulty of translating poetry from one language to another, can fully appreciate the original, or sufficiently admire the translator's success.

"Her's are teeth whose whiteness
Snow alone can peer;
Her's the breath all fragrance,
Voice of loving cheer;
Cheeks of cherry ripeness,
Eyelids looking down,
'Neath a forehead never
Shadowed by a frown.

"Out on royal splendors!
Love best makes his bed
'Mong the leaves and grasses
Of the sylvan shade
Where the blissful breezes
Tell of bloom and balm,
And health-giving streamlets
Sing their ceaseless psalm.

"No mere music, art-born,
There our pleasures crowned
Music far more cheering
Nature for us found—
Larks in air, and thrushes
On each fiow'ring thorn,
And the cuckoo hailing
Summer's gay return."

Very different from the above was the experience of Johnny Sands, as related in a song popular sixty years ago.

"A man, whose name was Johnny Sands,
Had married Bella Haige;
And, though she brought him gold and lands,
She proved a terrible plague."

Mrs. Sands was a "scolding wife," a very termagant, and so Johnny, wearied of life, agreed with his spouse that he should put an end to his existence. And this was the plan proposed: he was to stand on the brink of the deep river, and his wife was to come rushing down the hill and throw him in. And to make success certain the virago tied the poor man's hands behind his back. Let the poet tell the story:

"For, oh, she was a scolding wife,
Full of caprice and whim
He said that he was tired of life,
And she was tired of him.

"Says he, 'Then I will drown myself,
The river runs below';
Says she, 'Pray do, you silly elf,
I've wished it long ago.'

"You tie my hands behind my back,
And when securely done,
I'll stand upon the brink,' he said,
'While you prepare to run.'

"All down the hill his loving wife
Now came with all her force
To push him in ; he slipped aside,
And she fell in, of course.

"Now splashing, dashing, like a fish,
'Oh, save me, Johnny Sands!'
'I can't, my love, though much I wish,
For you have tied my hands.'"

MORAL.—The wicked fall into the pit they have digged for others.


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