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
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
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
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
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