Songs of Robert Burns/O, were my love yon lilac fair

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Songs of Robert Burns ~ O, were my love yon lilac fair
James C. Dick
From "The Songs by Robert Burns". A Study in Tone-Poetry. Published by Henry Frowde. London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and New York 1903. Source: «traditionalmusic»


No. 146. O, were my love yon lilac fair.

Tune : Gin my love were yon red rose. Scots Musical Museum, 1803, No. 562.


Page 133. II. LOVE : GENERAL

* * *

O were my love yon Lilac fair,
    Wi' purple blossoms to the Spring,
And I, a bird to shelter there,
    When wearied on my little wing!

How I wad mourn when it was torn
    By Autumn wild, and Winter rude!
But I wad sing on wanton wing,
    When youthfu' May its bloom renew'd.

[O gin my love were yon red rose,
    That grows upon the castle wa';
And I myself a drap o' dew,
    Into her bonie breast to fa'!

O there, beyond expression blest,
    I'd feast on beauty a' the night;
Seal'd on her silk-saft faulds to rest,
    Till fley'd awa by Phoebus' light!]

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No. 146. O, were my love yon lilac fair. Currie, Works, 1800, iv. 76. Scotish Airs, 1805, 154. The MS. is at Brechin Castle. Only the first eight lines are the work of Burns. Enclosing the poem iu a letter of June 25, 1793, Burns writes thus: ' The thought is inexpressibly beautiful, and quite, so far as I know, original. It is too short for a song, else I would forswear you altogether, except you give it a place. I have often tried to eke a stanza to it, but in vain. After balancing myself for a musing for five minutes on the hind-legs of my elbow-chair, I produced the following. [That is, the first eight lines in the text.] The verses are far inferior to the foregoing [The fragment— the last eight lines], I frankly confess; but, if worthy of insertion at all, they might be first in place, as every poet, who knows anything of his trade, will husband his best thoughts for a concluding stroke.' This little lyric was dreadfully mutilated by the editor. Thomson suggested Hughie Graham as the tune, and while Burns agreed that the measure would suit, he was doubtful whether it would properly express the verses. The poet was evidently not familiar with the proper tune, and modelled his stanza from the fragment which he got from Herd's Scottish Songs, illd, ii. 4.

Thomson's Imprint was a curious piece of patchwork; at least five authors were represented in the poetry and music. In his Select Melodies, 1825, vi.j2, the poetry is in three stanzas : the first by Burns as in the text, the second by a Mr. Richardson, and the third is the anonymous original. As to the melody —an imitation of that in the text—the first part is the composition of a lady correspondent, the second part is the work of the editor.

Another old song of three stanzas on the threadbare theme is in the Herd MS., and the middle one runs as follows :—

' O, if my love was a bonny red rose,
And growing upon some barren wa',
And I myself a drap of dew,
Down in that red rose I would fa'.

The song has rarely been printed with its proper melody. In the Scots Musical Museum, 1803,^, it is set to Lord Balgonie's favourite, now better known as Gloomy winter's noo awa, probably because the proper tune had been appropriated to another song in the volume, beginning,' Gently blaw, ye western breezes.'

A bad setting of the proper tune, Gin my love were yon red rose, is in Macfarlan MS, 1740, entitled Under her apron; and in the Scots Musical Museum, 1803, No. J62.

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