Robyn Stapleton: Songs of Robert Burns

June 25, 2019

Tradition Most Modern

Listening Post 207. When Robyn Stapleton sings Robert Burns we are suspended between the centuries. So captivating are her lilting voice and warm presence that temporal cues—like a fine and equally light classical-folk-jazz accompaniment—can wash right over us. The eighteenth-century bard endures on the cultural landscape; no other Scot is so celebrated worldwide, let alone at home. Burns Night, his January 25 birthday, is more widely observed—with songs, haggis, whisky, wine and ale—than Scotland’s national day. He fueled the survival of the Scots language in his own time and his 600 poems and songs are among the pillars of the living tongue today. As such, the altitude of his profile sets the bar high for any artist who ventures to interpret his work. On her second album, Stapleton—one of the leading voices of Scottish traditional music—rises to the occasion. Her 12-track collection, necessarily selective, includes some of Burns’ timeless love songs and also makes salient choices that reinforce the conflation of eras. She gives soul to My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose (video 1); and takes an enchanting gambol through a medley that opens with I’m O’er Young (video 2). In the tender Ae Fond Kiss she recounts the story of the woman Burns loved for years but whose lips he touched only once (video 3); and she bounds ebulliently in Comin’ Through the Rye (video 4). Romance aside, the album highlights Burns’ liberal vision with The Slave’s Lament, a proto-abolitionist ballad; Westlin’ Winds, citing “tyrannic man’s dominion” over nature; and Parcel o’ Rogues, about the corrupt commissioners who approved Scotland’s 1707 union with England—and it closes, as it must, with Auld Lang Syne. Traversing the path through time, Burns meets us more than halfway and Stapleton is the perfect guide. (Laverock Records)


My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose
Robert Burns, 1794
O, my love is like a red, red rose
/That’s newly sprung in June
O, my love is like the melody/That’s sweetly played in tune

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass/Sae deep in love am I
And I will love thee still, my dear/Till a’ the seas gang dry

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear/And the rocks melt wi’ the sun
And I will love thee still, my dear/While the sands o’ life shall run

And fare thee weel, my only love/And fare thee weel a while
And I will come again my love/Tho’ it were ten thousand mile


I’m O’er Young/Marion Dewar’s Jig/Hey Ca’ Thro’/Brose & Butter
Robert Burns, 1788
I’m o’er young, I’m o’er young/I’m o’er young to marry yet

I’m o’er young, ’twad be a sin/To tak me frae my mammy yet

I am my mammy’s ae bairn/Wi’ unco folk I weary

And lying in a man’s bed/I’m fley’d it mak me eerie

My mammy coft a new gown/The kirk maun hae the gracing o’t
Were I to lie wi’ you, kind Sir/
I’m feared ye’d spoil the lacing o’t

Hallowmass is come and gane/The nights are lang in winter
And you an’ I in ae bed/
In trowth, I dare na venture

Fu’ loud an’ shill the frosty wind/Blaws thro’ the leafless timmer
But if ye come this gate again/I’ll aulder be gin simmer

ae = one, only
bairn = child
 = stranger, unknown
coft = bought 
kirk = church
fley’d = afraid


Ae Fond Kiss
Robert Burns, 1791
Ae fond kiss, and then we sever/Ae fareweel, and then forever
Deep in heart-wrung tears I’ll pledge thee/Warring sighs and groans I’ll wage thee

Who shall say that Fortune grieves him/While the star of hope she leaves him
Me, nae cheerfu’ twinkle lights me/Dark despair around benights me

I’ll ne’er blame my partial fancy/Naething could resist my Nancy
But to see her was to love her/Love but her, and love for ever

Had we never loved sae kindly/Had we never loved sae blindly
Never met, or never parted/
We had ne’er been broken-hearted

Fare-thee-weel, thou first and fairest/Fare-thee-weel, thou best and dearest
Thine be ilka joy and treasure/
Peace, enjoyment, love and pleasure

ae = one, only
ilka = every 


Comin’ Through the Rye
Robert Burns, 1782
Gin a body meet a body/
Comin’ through the rye
Gin a body kiss a body/Need a body cry

Ilka lassie has her laddie/Nane, they say, hae I
Yet a’ the lads they smile at me/When comin’ through the rye

Gin a body meet a body/Comin’ frae the toon
Gin a body greet a body/Need a body froon

Amang the train there is a swain/
I dearly loe masel
But what’s his name or whar’s his hame/I dinnae care to tell

Gin a body meet a body/Comin’ frae the well
Gin a body kiss a body/Need a body tell

Gin a body meet a body/Comin’ through the rye
Gin a body kiss a body/Need a body cry

gin = if
ilka = every



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