Burns’ Season : “Ye Banks and Braes”

Ye banks and braes o' bonie Doon,
  How can ye bloom sae fresh and fair;
How can ye chant, ye little birds,
  And I sae weary fu' o' care!
Thou'll break my heart thou warbling bird, 
  That wantons thro' the flowering thorn:
Thou minds me o' departed joys,
  Departed never to return.

Aft hae I rov'd by bonie Doon
  To see the rose and woodbine twine;
And ilka bird sang o'its Luve,
  And fondly sae did I o' mine.-
Wi'lightsome heart I pu'd a rose, 
  Fu' sweet upon its thorny tree;
But my fause Luver staw my rose, 
  But ah! he left the thorn wi' me.

First printed in Johnson's S.M.M.1792.
(Scottish Musical Museum 1787-1803).


A beautiful, haunting sorrowful song giving expression to the voice of a loving young woman betrayed by her lover.

Burns characterised Scottish song, in general, as having “a wild happiness of thought and expression”. He also noted its quality of “rustic sprightliness”.

“Wild happiness and “rustic sprightliness” are both shown by a phrase like “Wi’ lightsome heart I pu’d a rose””. The word ” lightsome” suggests an openness to experience encouraged by the cheerfulness of Nature, in its early summer abundance of growth and bird-song. But instead of living in continuity with the Nature expressed in its blooming and chanting and wantoning birds the young woman’s openness has been betrayed by cruel abandonment. It is noteworthy that very little is said of the betrayer other than “fause lover”, but the limitedness is a strength because the analogy to what he has done is brought out with all the more power and poignancy by the use of the rose and thorn imagery creating the powerful climax:

Wi' lightsome heart I pu'd a rose
  Fu' sweet upon its thorny tree
But my fause lover staw my rose
  But oh! he left the thorn wi'me. 

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