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The Heather in Lore, Lyric and Lay
Chimings of the Heather Bells

A Little Song

(From the German of Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach.)

A little song—how can it be
That it should mean so much to me?
What is it then revealing?

It holds a breath of melody,
A touch of gentle harmony,
A soul of tender feeling.

—A. M. von Blomberg.

My Fiddle an' Me

When amang the crisp heather upon the hill-side,
Mine e'e fu' o' rapture, my soul fu' o' pride;

The wee heather-untie an' wild hinny-bee
A' join in the strain wi' my fiddle an' me.
When daunderin' at e'en down the dark dowie dells.
To cheer the wee gowans, an' charm the wee bells—

The sweet purling nil wimples down to the sea,
Dancing light to the notes o' my fiddle an' me.
—James Ballantine.

POETRY, with its refined sentiment and musical utterance, has ever been universally esteemed as voicing the true interpretation of the language of flowers; and it is to the poets of Scotland that we must turn for an expression of the pure, tender, devoted thoughts and feelings that cluster around and find their utterance through the medium of those "quaint, cloud-heavy flowers."

Like sweet incense diffusing its fragrance around the most hallowed associations of our homeland, the sentiment of the Heather pervades many of the most beautiful and tender Scottish songs, lays and poems. And strange or not as it may seem, the plant has its most ardent admirers and sweetest singers among those whose names are not generally found engraved on the world's scroll of fame. True it is that innumerable allusions are made to it throughout the poetry of Ossian, Leyden, Burns, Scott, Hogg, Tannahill, and others of the Scottish poets whose works shall remain imperishable; but among the major poets named, with the exception, perhaps, of Leyden, no extended or specific dedicatory effort to the Heather, descriptive of its beauty or utility, has been attempted.

The Rev. Hugh Macmillan has told us that in the county in which the greater part of Burns' life was spent—in Ayr—the Heather plant does not occur; and that may be the reason why we have not been charmed and inspired with the poet's tender, pathetic brooding upon the Heather, similar to that called forth within him by the "wee modest crimson-tipped flower."

It is on record that the Heather was the favorite flower of Sir Walter Scott, as dear to him as his own "land of brown heath and shaggy wood;" and his references to the plant occur often in those immortal pen portraits of Scotland's mountain scenery.

But among those into whose activities of life the plant so largely enters have arisen the men and women who have entwined the bonnie blooming Heather in evergreen garlands of song, redolent of pathos and love.

Among the earliest references to the Heather in poetry is that of Scotland's first ballad singer, Thomas the Rhymer, who speaks of "Flodclen's high and heathery side."

The ballad of "King Henrie" runs "Oh pu'd has he the green Heather, and made to her a bed."

The Heather has also entered largely into the martial songs of Scotland, and nothing could be more appropriate than the binding together of her military glory with the memory of her children, by figurative bands of purple Heather.

The Cameron Men

I hear the pibroch sounding, sounding,
Deep o'er the mountain and glen,
While light, springing footsteps are trampling the heath;
'Tis the march of the Cameron men.

Oh, proudly they walk, but each Cameron knows
He may tread on the heather no more;
But boldly he follows his chief to the field

Where his laurels were gathered before.
—Mary Maxwell Campbell.

Is Your War-Pipe Asleep?

Wilt thou shrink from the doom thou canst shun not, McCrimman?
Wilt thou shrink from the doom thou canst shun not?
If thy course must be brief, let the proud Saxon know
That the soul of McCrimman ne'er quailed when a foe
Bared his blade in the land he had won not.
Where the light-footed roe leaves the wild breeze behind,
And the red heather bloom gives its sweets to the wind,
There our broad pennon flies, and the keen steeds are prancing,

'Mid the startling war cries and the war weapons glancing.
There raise your wild slogan cry—on to the foray!
Sons of the heather hill, pinewood and glen;

Shout for M'Pherson, M'Leod and the Moray,
Till the Lomonds re-echo the challenge again.

—George Allan.

The Jacobite singers, in their appeals to the clans to come to the succor of Prince Charlie, loved to mingle the Heather in their slogan:

The Yellow Locks o' Charlie

While banners wave aboon the brave,
Our foemen vainly gather,

And swear to claim, by deeds o' fame,
Our hills and glens o' heather.

The sky and stream reflect the gleam
Of broadswords gleaming rarely,
To guard till death the hills of heath

Against the foes o' Charlie.

Wha'll Be King but Charlie?
Come thro' the heather, around him gather,
Ye're a' the welcomer early;

Around him cling wi' a' your kin,
For wha'll be king but Charlie?

Come thro' the heather, around him gather,
Come Ronald, come Donald, come a' thegether,
And crown your rightfu', lawfu' king!

For wha'Il be king but Charlie?

—Caroline Oliphant, Baroness Nairne.

And so forgetful of self, and so trustful toward their unfortunate exiled Prince were their loyal Highland hearts, that they were willing, when he did come, thankfully to share with him this common lot:

When Charlie to the Highlands Came

Our home is now the barren rock,
As if by Heaven forsaken;
Our shelter and our canopy
The Heather and the bracken.
—Robert Allan.

When the Scotsman bids adieu to his native land, the thought of parting wrings from him passionate tributes of affection and reverence for this lowly dweller on her mountain side. So pronounced is this sentiment, and so evident to the outside world, that in his early days it moved the sympathetic heart of the great Ruskin to dedicate one of his rare flights of poesy to this plaintive theme of "The Scotsman's Farewell."

Shagram's Farewell to Shetland

Farewell, my dear country, so savage and hoar;
I shall range on thy heath-covered Sumbrugh no more;
For lo! I am snatched to a far distant shore,
To wish for my country in vain.

They say it is savage, and covered with snow,
But still purple Heather and grass are below;
And I care not, though o'er it the cold breezes blow,

For still it is fertile to me.
—John Ruskin.

The Scotsman's Farewell

Let me gaze on those mountains, with heath overgrown,
Mid those wild flowers I sported, e'er sorrow I knew;

Let me leave them one tear, ere my bark shall be thrown
O'er the wave that may hide them forever from view!

—John Burns.

Torn away frae Scotia's mountains,
Far frae a' that's dear to dwall,
Mak's my e'en twa gushin fountains

Dings a dirk in my poor saul.
Braes o' bracken, hills o' Heather,
Howms whare rows the gowden wave,
Blissful scenes farewell forever!

I maun seek an unco grave.
—Thomas Mounsey Cunningham.

Farewell to the Land

Farewell to the land of the rock and the wildwood,
The hill and the forest, and proud swelling wave;
To the land where bliss smil'd on the days of my childhood,

Farewell to thee, Scotia, thou land of the brave.
Far dearer to me are thy heath-cover'd mountains
Than Gallia's rich valleys and gray fertile plains;

And dearer by far than the murmuring fountains
The roar of the torrent where liberty reigns.

Wherever I wander, sweet isle of the ocean,
My thoughts still shall turn to thy wild rocky shore;
Ah! still shall my heart beat with fondest emotion
While musing on scenes I may visit no more.
Adieu, then, dear land of romance and wild story,

Thy welfare and honor forever shall be
The pray'r of an exile, whose boast and whose glory
Is the tie that still binds him, lov'd country, to thee.

—Author Unknown.

Love Amang the Heather

Fly we to some desert isle,
There we'll pass our days together,
Shun the world's derisive smile,
Wandering tenants of the heather.
—J. Ross.

The Rose Among the Heather

Grew a baby rosebud rare,
Lonely—'mong the heather;
Morning was not half so fair,

One looked long who, lingering there,
Fain had looked forever.
Dainty, wayward, crimson rose;
Rosebud 'mong the heather;
"Sweet, I'll steal thee, ay or no!"
Quoth he, from the heather.
"Then I'll prick thee," laughed she low,
Heedless, heartless—even so,

"Thou'll think on me ever."
Rosebud, rosebud; red, red rose;
Rosebud 'mong the heather.
Willful wooers are not slow,

Rosebud's o'er the heather.
Thorns can wound till life-drops flow;
In two hearts a weary woe

Woke to slumber never.
Rosebud, rosebud; red, red rose;
Rosebud 'mong the heather.
—Translation of Goethe's "Heiden-Roslein," Chambers' Journal, 1879.

In our casket of Scottish song gems, bonniest among its treasures we find the wee Heatherbell glistening in fragments of glowing love-rhyme.

The charming ditties of the Scottish wooer, so characteristic throughout Scotch lyrics, would be shorn of much of their magic were they robbed of their resourceful imagery, and comparison, and invocation of the friendly Heather. He vows that the steadfastness of his love shall abide as long as the purple bells clothe in all their gorgeous beauty his "everlasting hills;" he discovers a resemblance of the color of the blossoms to his sweetheart's blushing cheeks; he culls the bonnie blooms and weaves them into garlands to deck her brow; he tempts her with its fragrance, sighing poetic pleadings that in its intoxicating aroma together they plight their troth; and he delights to whisper to her lover's promises that their home shall be where the Heather grows, and proudly decks his castle in the air with buoyant hopes of how amid this Heather beauty shall their little ones be reared.

I'll Lo'e Thee, Annie

I'll lo'e thee, Annie, while the dew
In siller bells hings on the tree;
Or while the burnie's waves o' blue

Rin wimplin' to the rowin' sea.
I'll lo'e thee while the gowan mild

Its crimson fringe spreads on the lea;
While blooms the Heather in the wild—
Oh! Annie. I'll be true to thee.
—Robert Hamilton.

The Hills of the Highlands

Will ye go to the Highian's, my Mary,
And visit our haughs and our glens?
There's beauty 'mang hills o' the Highian's,
That lass i' th' Lowlands ne'er kens.

'Tis true we've few cowslips or roses,
Nae lilies grow wild on the lea;
But the Heather its sweet scent discloses,
And the daisy's as sweet to the ee.

See yon far heathy hills, whare they're risin',
Whose summits are shaded wi' blue;
There the fleet mountain roes they are lyin',
Or feedin' their fawns, love, for you.

Right sweet are the scenes i' the gloamin',
Whan the shepherds return frae the hill,
Aroun' by the banks o' Loch Lomon',

While the bagpipes are soundin' sae shrill.

Right sweet are the low-setting sunbeams,
That point owre the quivering stream;
But sweeter the smiles o' my Mary,

And kinder the blinks o' her een.

—William Nicholson.
(Known as the Galloway poet. Born 1782, died 1849.)

The Chieftain to His Bride

O come to fair Argyle, my love!
And be of Highland hearts the pride;
O come, and Ossian's land of song
Shall own thy gentle sway, my bride.

Thy home shall be our heath-clad hills,
Wash'd by the clear Atlantic wave,
Where mighty Fingal liv'd of yore,
Where sleep in death the warriors brave.

—W. Henderson.

Amang the Heather

Amang the braes aboon Dunoon,
In vernal May's delightfu' weather,
I met at e'en a bonnie lass

Alane amang the blooming heather.
* * * *
I spoke her fair, and speert her name,
To tell me true she didna swither,
But modestly she hung her head,
And blush'd as red's the blooming heather.
* * * *
The balmy air, the glowing sky,
The thymey sod, the blooming heather,
And sic an angel by my side—

I trow 'twas Heaven a' thegither!

The night grew late before we wist,
It took us hours to part wi' ither:
And now she's mine, the bonnie lass,
That staw my heart amang the heather.
—Wm. Cross.

Ca' the Yowes

This song was written by Isobel or Tibbie Pagan, who lived in a hovel near Muirkirk, in Ayrshire. It was a favorite of the gentlemen of the neighborhood, who, while they enjoyed her smuggled whiskey, made merry over her shafts of humor and wit, and took pleasure in hearing her sing:

Ca' the yowes to the knowes,
Ca' them where the Heather grows,
Ca' them where the burnie rows,
My bonnie deane.

As I gaed down the water side,
There I met my shepherd lad;
He row'd me gently in his plaid.

An' he ca'd me his deane.

O'er the Mountain

O'er the mountain, o'er the lea,
With my kilt and Saxon plaid,
And my tartan bonnet wee,

Will I seek my Highland lad.

Though the Heather be my bed,
Brightly peanl'd with silvery dew,
There's a tear more bright I'll shed,

Oh! my Highland lad, for you.

Far awa' from love and home,
O'er the heath with blossom clad;
While the night bird sings I'll roam,

Oh! for thee, my Highland lad.

The Plaid Amang the Heather

The wind blew high owre muir and lea,
And dark and stormy gaed the weather;
The rain rained sair; nae shelter near

But my love's plaid amang the Heather.

Close to his breast he held me fast,
Sae cosy warm we lay thegether;
Nae Simmer heat was half sae sweet

As my love's plaid amang the Heather.

Mid wind and rain he tauld his tale;
My lightsome heart grew like a feather!
 It lap sae quick I cou'dna speak,

But silent sighed amang the Heather.

The storm blew past; we kissed in haste;
I hameward ran and tauld my mither:
She gloomed at first, but soon confest

The bowls row'd right amang the Heather.

Now Hymen's beam gilds bank and stream,
Whar Will and I fresh flowers will gather;
Nae storms I fear, I've got my dear,

Kind-hearted lad aniang the Heather.

—Hector MacNeill.

The Brackens Wi' Me

I'll sing of yon glen o' red Heather,
An' a dear thing that ca's it her hame,
Wha's a' made o' love life together,

Frae the tie o' the shoon to the kembe.
—James Hogg.

The Heather Bell

Oh! deck thy hair wi' the heather bell,
The heather bell alone;
Leave roses to the Lowland maid,
The Lowland maid alone.
I've seen thee wi' the gay, gay rose,
And wi' the heather bell;
I love you much with both, fair maid,
But wear the heather bell.
For the heather bell, the heather bell,
Which breathes the mountain air,
Is far more fit than roses gay
To deck thy flowing hair.

Away, away, ye roses gay!
The heather bell for me;
Fair maiden, let me hear thee say
The heather bell for me.
Then twine a wreath o' the heather bell
The heather bell alone;
Nor rose, nor lily, twine ye there;
The heather bell alone;
For the heather bell, the heather bell.
Which breathes the mountain air,
Is far more fit than roses gay
To deck thy flowing hair.

—D. R. Spittal.

My Ain Dear Nell

When I pued the crawpea's blossom, and the bloomin' Heather bell,
To twine them 'round your bonnie brow, my ain dear Nell. —Alex. Flume.

The Crook and the Plaid

He pu's the bells o' Heather red, and the lily flowers sae meek,
Ca's the lily like my bosom and the heath bell like my cheek;
His words are sweet and tender, as the dew frae Heaven shed,
And weel I We to list the lad that wears the crook and plaid. —Henry Scott Riddell.

I'll Twine a Wreath

The Heather bell, from cliff and fell,
I'll seek where zephyr blows;
At early morn, from off the thorn,
I'll cull the new-blown rose;
And lily, pale, from verdant vale,

That bends beneath the storm,
Emblem of you, all bathed in dew,

And spotless as thy form.
—Wm. Rennie.

The Heathy Hills

O! were I on the heathy hills
That rise aboon the Stanley lea,
And wand'ring by the crystal rills
Where, Mary, first I courted thee.
There mem'ry would recall the hours
I aft would spend at evening's fa',

To twine for thee a wreath o' flowers
The flowers o' Caledonia.


On yon bonnie heather knowes
We pledged our mutual vows,
And dear is the spot unto me;
Though pleasure I ha'e nane,
While I wander alane
And my Jamie is far ower the sea.
—William Chalmers.

Lass of Logie

Her lips were like the heather bloom
In meekest dewy morning;
Her cheeks were like the ruddy leaf
The bonnie brier adorning.
—Alexander Laing.

My Highland Cot

My humble Highland cot is a picture fair to view,
With clear and winding lake whose dear charms seem e'er anew;

Oh Scotland braw, my lov'd home, my country and my pride,
Thy heather bloom I love to see at quiet eventide.
When Maggie's by my side all is grandeur though 'tis poor,

No life to me so sweet with my weans beside the door.
Oh among the bonnie bluebells we dearly love to see,
In all their beauty sweet, when the sun sets o'er the lea;
Our Highland home they grace where no sorrow ever dwells,

For there our only love bloom alike the bonnie bells.
The bonnie, bonnie, bonnie, bonnie, bright, and bonnie bells. —Chas. Blamphin.

At Rest, Where Heather Blooms

Then when life's long day is closing, and memories of old come thronging back upon his wistful fancy, with them not seldom creeps into the tired heart of the aged Scotsman the timid desire to die in some spot where in his last moments his eyes may be gladdened with the sight of the Heather, in the fresh beauty that his childhood fancy wrapped around it; and to be buried where the bonnie purple bell may bloom above his grave.

Scotland Dear

When I shall die, O I wad lie
Where life an' me first met thegither,
That my cauld clay, through its decay,
Might bloom again in the mountain heather.

Scotland dear!
—Alex. Hume.

Scotland's Hills

Oh! these are not my country's hills,
Though they look bright and fair;
Though flowers deck their verdant sides,
The heather blooms not there.
Let me behold the mountains steep,
And wild deer roaming free,
The heathy glen, the ravine deep:
Oh! Scotland's hills for me!

The Hills o' Gallawa'

And when auld Scotland's heathy hills,
Her rural nymphs and joyous swains,
Her flowery wilds and wimpling rills

Awake nae mair my canty strains;
Whare friendship dwells and freedom reigns

Whare heather blooms and muircocks craw,
Oh! dig my grave and hide my banes

Amang the hills o' Gallawa.
—Thomas Cunningham.


If I could see the gowan spread
Its wee flowers on the lea,
An' the heather blume on the mountain bare,
And the ivy climb the tree:
Then might I think that this was hame,
And gladly live and dee,
Nor feel this want at my heart's core,
My native land, for thee.
—John Dougal.

Nor absence, time, nor balmy rest,
Nor grief, nor tears, can ease me;
I feel the time approaching fast

When a clay-cold bed will please me.
Then rest my head upon yon hill,

Where blows the blooming heather,
There first at Flora's feet I fell!

There oft we sat together. —Hogg.

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