"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
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
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
O Lord the God of glory, the
Supreme King over all people. How bold to celebrate thy name so great, with
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.
"Then, Hurrah! Hurrah for my
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
Make the tyrants backward reel
On, as did your dauntless fathers,
With their trusted Highland steel!
"Charge, for Scotland's
Round her deathless laurels twine
Make her golden page of glory
With unfading lustre shine!
"Yours the straths of purple
Yours the mountain and the glen
By your valor let despots know
That these nurse but gallant men.
"To the pibroch proudly
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
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:-
"Come, Scottish men an'
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'
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
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'
In floods o' valor did advance,
In vain their fiery steeds did prance
Around our squares o' tartan.
"The Scottish lads in close
Stood man tae man upon that day,
An' thick as leaves the Frenchmen lay
Around our squares o' tartan.
"Thrice glorious, garb o'
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
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
"The water of life! no, not at
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
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
To the medley belongs the
following well- known verse:
"When Eve, in all her
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
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
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
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
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
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
"A man, whose name was Johnny
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
"For, oh, she was a scolding
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
The river runs below';
Says she, 'Pray do, you silly elf,
I've wished it long ago.'
"You tie my hands behind my
And when securely done,
I'll stand upon the brink,' he said,
'While you prepare to run.'
"All down the hill his loving
Now came with all her force
To push him in ; he slipped aside,
And she fell in, of course.
"Now splashing, dashing, like
'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.