National Poetry Day 2018: Celebrating Robert Tannahill

Thursday 4th October, 2018

It wouldn’t be right to celebrate National Poetry Day without looking back on the life and work of Paisley’s “Weaver Poet”, Robert Tannahill.

Tannahill was born on June 3, 1774 at Castle Street, Paisley, and was the fourth son in a family of seven.

One of around 290 weaver poets produced by the town, Tannahill became affectionately known as “Paisley’s Son” and his name sits proudly alongside Robert Burns as one of Scotland’s most famous wordsmiths.

After two years working in Bolton, Lancashire, Tannahill returned to Paisley in 1801 to support the family – with most of his poetry dating from his time in his hometown.

Tannahill went on to pen over a hundred songs and poems during his lifetime and formed a partnership with the composer Robert Archibald Smith, who set some of his songs in the Scots language to music.

Most famously, the two worked together on The Braes of Balquhidder which became the basis of the ballad Wild Mountain Thyme with its chorus of “Will Ye Go Lassie, Go?”. Other notable works include Jessie the Flower of Dunblane and The Braes of Gleniffer.

Tannahill also started the Paisley Literacy and Convivial Association in 1803 with friends and he also became first Secretary of the Paisley Burns Club. The club, which formed in 1805, claims to be the oldest formally constituted Burns Club in the world.

Sadly, Tannahill’s life was to end in tragic circumstances in 1810. Aggrieved at the rejection of his latest work by publishers and fearful of his health, the poet drowned himself in a culverted stream under Paisley Canal.

Following his death, Tannahill’s work achieved great recognition and he has continued to be celebrated throughout Paisley’s cultural life.

Robert Tannahill’s cottage still stands today at 11 Queen Street in Paisley and is still home to the Paisley Burns Club.

He is also remembered with a statue in the town’s Abbey Close, immediately opposite the entrance to Paisley Town Hall.

Read more about the Weaver Poet’s work on the Robert Tannahill Federation’s website.

And why not learn some of the Weaver Poet’s work on World Poetry Day? Here’s a couple of his well-known poems and songs below:

 

The Braes o’ Balquidder

Chorus:

Let us go, lassie, go

Tae the braes o’ Balquhidder

Whar the blueberries grow

‘Mang the bonnie Hielan’ heather

Whar the deer and the rae

Lichtly bounding thegither

Sport the lang summer day

On the braes o’ Balquhidder

 

I will twin thee a bow’r

By the clear silver fountain

And I’ll cover it o’er

Wi’ the flooers o’ the mountain

I will range through the wilds

And the deep glens sae dreary

And return wi’ their spoils

Tae the bow’r o’ my dearie

 

Chorus

 

When the rude wintry win’

Idly raves roun’ oor dwellin’

And the roar o’ the linn

On the nicht breeze is swellin’

So merrily we’ll sing

As the storm rattles o’er us

Till the dear shielin’ ring

Wi’ the licht liltin’ chorus

 

Chorus

 

Noo the summers in prime

Wi’ the flooers richly bloomin’

Wi’ the wild mountain thyme

A’ the moorlan’s perfumin’

Tae oor dear native scenes

Let us journey thegither

Whar glad innocence reigns

‘Mang the braes o’ Balquhidder

 

Chorus

 

The Braes o’ Gleniffer

 

Keen blaws the win’ o’er the braes o’ Gleniffer

The auld castle’s turrets are covered wi’ snaw

How changed frae the time when I met wi’ my lover

Amang the brume bushes by Stanley green shaw

 

The wild flowers o’ simmer were spread a’ sae bonnie

The Mavis sang sweet frae the green birkin tree

But far to the camp they ha’e marched my dear Johnnie

And now it is winter wi’ nature and me

 

Then ilk thing aroun’ us was blythsome and cheery

Then ilk thing aroun’ us was bonnie and braw

Now naething is heard but the win’ whistlin’ dreary

And naething is seen by the wide spreadin’ snaw

 

The trees are a’ bare, and the birds mute and dowie

They shake the cauld drift frae their wings as they flee

And chirp out their plaints, seeming wae for my Johnnie

‘Tis winter wi’ them and ’tis winter wi’ me

 

Yon caul sleety could skiffs alang the bleak mountain

And shakes the dark firs on the stey rocky brae

While doun the deep glen bawls the snaw-flooded fountain

That murmur’d sae sweet to my laddie an’ me

 

‘Tis no’ its loud roar, on the wintry win’ swellin’

‘Tis no’ the caul’ blast brings the tear to my e’e

For, oh, gin I saw my bonnie Scots callan

The dark days o’ winter war simmer tae me

Visit Robert Tannahill's cottage

Exploring Paisley’s rich history

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