Piping Poetry


PAWKIE ADAM GLEN By Alexander Laing.

Pawkie Adam Glen, piper o’ the clachan
When he stoited ben, Sairly was he pechan;
Spak’ a wee, but tint his win ‘ ,
Hurklit doun an’ hostit syne,
Blew his beak, an dichtit’s een,
An’ whaisalt a’ for-foughten.
But his coughin’ dune,
Cheerie kytht the body,
Crackit like a gun,
An’ leugh to Auntie Madie .

Cried “my callans, name a spring,
’Jinglin John’, or ony thing,
For weel I’d like to see the fling,
O’ ilka lass an’ laddie.
Blythe the dancers flew ;
Usquebae was plenty.

Blythe the piper grew,
Tho’ shakin’ han’ s wi ‘ ninety;
Seven times his bridal vow,
Ruthless fate had broken thro’ ,
Wha ‘ wad thought his comin ‘ now,
Was for our maiden auntie
She had ne’er been sought,
Cheerie hope was fadin’,

Dowie is the thocht
To live an’ dee a maiden;
How it comes we canna ken ‘
Wanters aye maun wait their ain
Madge is hecht tae Adam Glen,
An’ sune we’l1 hae a waddin.

Pawkie -drily or slyly humorous
Clachan -a small village
Stoit -to stumble
Ben -in or towards
Pechan -panting *Tint -lost
Syne -next
Beak -nose
Dicht -wipe
Whaisle -to wheeze ,
For foughten -exhausted as by struggling
Kythe -to make known
Crackit -chatted
Leugh -1aughed
Callant – a lad
Spring – tune
Usquebae - whisky
Dowie -sad
Hecht -promised
Jinglan John was the old title for the tune now called ‘Kate Dalrymple’
— Alexander Laing

The following tune, song and notes came from The Pipers Assistant- Edited by John Mclauchlin and published in Edinburgh,1854. Adam Glen, author of the air to which the verses were written, was long a favourite in every farmer’s hall, village and fair in the west of Angusshire.

“He was an excellent performer on the bagpipe, faithfull reciter of our ancient ballads, and in every way an eccentric character. In the memorable year of Mars’ Rebellion, he joined the battalion of his county on its march to Sherifmuir and ‘When Angus and Fifemen, Ran for their life man’ he remained behind, winding his warlike instrument in the front and fire of the enemy, and fell on the field of battle, November 13th 1715, in the ninetieth year of his age.

“A few months before his death, he married his eighth wife, a maiden lady of forty five, on which circumstances the song is founded. When rallied on the number of his wives, he replied in his own peculiar way, ‘ae kist comin' in, is worth twa gaun out.’ (One kissed coming in is worth two going out.)

“Adam Glen was born in 1625 if his biography is correct. His tune is so similar to the hornpipe class of melodies, as to suggest that he would have been familiar with that type of tune now only preserved in Northumbria. The mention that he was a faithful reciter of our ancient ballads is further confirmation of the multiple role of the piper in 17th and 18th Century Scotland.”

O’er the Hills an’ Far Away

Some bits of piper poems from David herd Collection of Scottish Songs first published 1776

Young Jockie was a piper’s son And fell in love when he was young But a’ the springs that he could play Was O’er the Hills and Far Away… vol 2 p 85

He bad the piper play up soon For, be his troth, he would gae dance The piper piped till’s wyme gripped And a’ the rout began to revel The bride about the ring she skipped Till out starts baith carle and cavel. Vol 2 p 92



When twilight did my graunnie summon,
To say her pray’rs, douce, honest woman,
Aft yont the dyke she’s heard you bummin ,
Wi’ eerie drone;
Or, rustlin, thro’ the boortrees comin,
Wi’ heavy groan.
— Robert Burns - Address to the Deil verse 6

Weel danced Eppie and Jennie! He that tynes a stot o’ the spring Shall pay the piper a pennie Vol 2 p 92

From Paties Wedding:

Sae Tam the piper did play And ilka ane danc’d that was willing The lad that wore the white band I think they cau’d him Jamie Mather. And he took the bride by the hand, And cry’d to play up ‘Maggie Lauder’ Vol2 p191

Maggie Lauder

This comic song was written by Frances Semple of Beltrees who lived in the County of Renfrew about the year 1642.

The song commemorates ‘Rob the Ranter’ who was probably a Border Piper. This tune appears in the Pipers Assistant’ of 1854 but it was a popular fiddle tune in the eighteenth century also.


Wha wadna be in love
Wi bonnie Maggie Lauder
A piper met her gaun to Fife
And speir’d what was’t they ca’d her
Right scornfully she answered him
Begone you hallanshanker
Jog on your gate, you bladderskate
My name is Maggie Lauder.

Maggie quo he, and by my bags
I’m fidgin fain to see thee;
Sit down by me, my bonny bird
In troth I winna steer thee
For I’m a piper to my trade
My name is Rob the Ranter
The lasses loup as they were daft
When I blaw up my chanter.

Piper quo Meg hae ye your bags
Or is your drone in order?
If ye be Rob, I’ve heard of you
Live ye upon the Border?
The lasses a baith far and near
Have heard o Rob the Ranter.
I’ll shake my foot wi right goodwill
Gif you’ll blaw up your chanter.

Then to his bags he flew with speed
About the drone he twisted;
Meg up and walloped o’er the green
For brawly could she frisk it.
Well done! Quo he, play up quo she!
Weel bobbed! Quo Rob the Ranter

Tis worth my while to play indeed
When I hae sic a dancer.
Weel hae ye play’d your part, quo Meg
Your cheeks are like thew crimson.
There’s nane in Scotland plays sae weel
Since we lost Habbie Simpson
I’ve lived in Fife, baith maid and wife
These ten years and a quarter,
Gin ye should come tae Anster Fair,
Speir ye for Maggie Lauder.

— First appears in Craigs Coillection 1730

Each roared with throat at Widest Stretch,
For Will the Piper – low born wretch!
Will forward steps, as best he can,
Unlike a free, ennobled man;
A pliant bag ‘tween arm and chest,
While limping on, he tightly prest.
He stares-he strives the bag to sound;
He swells his maw – and ogles round;
He twists and turns himself about-
With fetid breath his cheeks swell out….
The churl did blow a grating shriek,
The bag did swell and harshly squeak
As does a goose from nightmare crying,
Or dog, crushed by a chest when dying;
This whistling-box’s changeless note’
Is forced from turgid veins and throat.
Its sound is like a crane’s harsh moan,
Or like a gosling’s latest groan;
Just such a noise a wounded goat’
Sends from her hoarse and gurgling throat.
— From the Saxons of Flint; Written by Lewis Glyn Cothi (1447-1486)
‘I will na preistis for me sing
Dies illa, dies ire;
Na yit na bellis for me ring,
Sicut semper solet fieri;
Bot a bagpipe to play a spryng,
Et unum ‘ail wosp’ ante me;
In stayd of baneris for to bring
Quator lagenas cervisie
Within the graif to set sic thing,
In modum crucis juxta me,
To flee the fendis, than hardly sing
De terra plasmasti me
— From William Dundar –The Testament of Mr Andro Kennedy P157 Oxford Book of Scottish Verse, London 1966.
The life of a shepherd is void of all care,

With his bag and his bottle he maketh good fare.

He hath yon green meadow to walk in at will-a,

With a pair of fine bagpipes upon a green hill-a.

Tring dilla, tring dilla, tring-a-down-dilla.

With a pair of fine bagpipes upon a green hill-a.

— From a 17th Century MS Cantus

 The piper he struck up, and merrily he did play,

The shakeing of the sheets, and eke the Irish hay.

Then up with Aley, Aley, up with Priss and Prue.

In came wanton Willy, amongst the jovial crew.

To a merry Scotch Tune, or Up with Aley, Aley From Burn’s poems . A song Up wi’ it Aley Aley is referred to by Burns in a letter of July 29 1787.

The piper cam tae oor toun,

Tae oor toun, tae oor toun;

The piper cam tae oor toun,

And he played bonnilie.

He play’d a spring the laird to please.

A spring brent new frae yont the seas.

And then he ga’e his bags a squeeze,

And played anither key.

And wasna he a roguey, a roguey, a roguey;

And wasna he a roguey, the Piper o’ Dundee.

The Piper of Peebles

1793 by William Anderson of Kirriemuir; an extract/abridged version.

A Laird from Kinghorn in Fife got head over heels in debt and was at his wits end to find a way out of his troubles. At last, one evening he was wandering alone in the fields, very much dejected, he was accosted by a fine-looking stranger on a black horse, who sympathised with him in his difficulties, and, seeming to know what they were without being told, offered him £10,000 on his simple note of hand.

‘Ye’s get it on your single bond,

As I frae Scotland maun abscond

To France, or in a woody swing

For lies a neighbour tald the King-

An’ said I meant to tak’ his life,

To let a gallant get his wife.’

The Laird, with little hesitation, accepted the offer, and, according to appointment, the stranger called with the money ‘on chap o’ twal’ the following night

‘As muckle goud, and rather mair,

Than wad out-weigh twal pecks o’ bear.’

He had no time to wait until it was counted, but, assuring the laird that it was alright, he presented the bond for signature. This, however, read that after 15 years the laird should be the stranger’s servant. The Laird would have none of this:-

As upright folk abhor mischief,

As honest men despise a thief,

As dogs detest a grunting sow,

So laigh the laird`disdained to bow!’

And bursting out with:-

‘Hence Satan! To your black abode,

In name of my Almighty God!’

The stranger immediately disappeared, leaving the money on the table. The supenatural powers of Scottish mythology could never stand the name of the Diety.

However the Laird had not heard the last of his great enemy. He prospered using the money left by the stranger and he grew rich and richer still until, fifteen years and one day hence he was at a large banquet when he was called out to speak with a visitor who had arrived on a black horse. A minute after he had left the hall, there was a loud gun shot and the stranger lay dead on the ground and at the Laird’s feet lay a pistol. The Laird was arrested and charged with murder and imprisoned at Edinburgh, but the doctors examining the body found it to have been dead ten days before it had visited the Laird and that there was no mark where a bullet could have entered. This created a great uproar and the mystery seemed incapable of explanation, until at last some Peebles folk came to the capital and swore that the body was that of their piper:-

‘I saw him yerdit, I can swear-

Frae his lang hame how cause he came?’

It was the Peebles piper, better dressed than ever he had been in life, and he had died in his bed at home. They even identified his ‘sark’ and the pistol. The Laird was set free, but in his heart he knew well the real explanation of the mystery.

‘The laird saw syne it had been Nick,

Contriv’d an’ carried on the trick,

He pu’d the piper frae the mould

That was in Peebles on him shool’d;

That folk had sworn they saw him shot

That very instant on the spot.

Auld Horny thought to gar him howd

Upon the gallows, for the gowd.

The Evil One had clearly made some kind of deal with the Peebles piper and hoped to settle two scores with the one trick.

Another Peebles piper was very boastful and bragged that he could play his pipes from Peebles to Lauder …a distance of 18 miles in a certain number of blasts. He failed in the attempt, but succeeded in blowing himself out of breath and expired. The spot where he fell down dead is on the boundary of the Parish of Heriot, in Midlothian and is still called ‘The Piper’s Grave.’

Haddington – Coal and Candle

From the Autobiography of Samuel Smiles, London 1905

The town had then its piper and drummer. It had been an ancient custom, and the magistrates revived it in my younger days. Donald MacGregor the piper, skirled the Highland tunes while marching round the town. Old Baird, the drummer, called the attention of the public to roups, sales and such like. He was sometimes very drunk, and stuttered and havered, so that the people could not hear his announcements. He was at length dismissed, and ‘Hangie’ was appointed in his place. ‘Hangie’ was one of the town’s officers, and, being in debt, he accepted £10 to lash one of the above burglars through the town at the cart’s tail. He was ever afterwards called ‘Hangie’. On Sundays, he used to march with the other officers in front of the magistrates from the Town Hall to the Established Church, where the latter took their places in the front of the ‘laft’.

This special officer had other work to do. The town had been burnt down several times during the Border Wars between Scotland and England and another great conflagration occurred through the carelessness of a servant, when the town was half burnt down. As a precaution to future servants, the following proclamation was made once a week, towards dark, for six weeks between Christmas and Candlemas;

‘A’ gude men servants where’er ye be,

Keep coal an’ candle for charitie;

Your bakehouse, brewhouse, barns and byres,

It’s for your sakes, keep weel your fires,

For oftentimes a little spark,

Brings mony hands to muckle wark;

Ye nourises that hae’ bairns to keep,

See that ye fa’ nae ower sound asleep,

For losing o’ your good renown,

An’ banishin’ o’ this burrow’s town;

It’s for your sakes that I do cry,

Take warnin’ from your neighbours by.’


‘Ben he brought ilk friend and neeper,

And filled them fou as ony piper.’

From Angus J. Sands , Poems 130 (1833)


‘Their piper fac’d fingers are not for hard work’ Scots proverb.


‘Laird, Lord, Lily, Leaf.

Piper, Drummer, Hangman, Thief.’

Childrens song.


Lucky Piper - a euphemism for the devil.

Pipers Coig – the customary drink of whisky or the like presented to a piper after a performance.

‘To tune one’s pipes’ – to start crying and wailing as a child.

‘Jack tun’d his pipes and loud with cries did roar!’

‘Go on, then, Galloway, go on.

To touch the lill and sound the drone’

R Galloway, Poems p154 1788


‘To fyke and fling at pipers springs’.(Anon)


The pypers drone was out of tune,

Sing Young Thomlin

Be merry, be merry, and twise so merrie,

With the light of the moon.

(From Thom of Lyn – Forbes Aberdeen Cantus, 1682.)


That by no means can they abide or dwell,

Within their houses, but out they need must go,

More wildly wandering than either buck or doe,

Some with their harps, another with his lute,

Another with his bagpipes or a foolish flute.

(From ‘Ship of Fools’ 1508 – Alexander Barclay)


Poor Merry Andrew, in the neuk,

Sat guzzling wi’a tinkler hizzie,

They mind’t na wha the chorus teuk,

Between themsels they were sae busy;

At length wi’ drink an’ courting dizzy,

He stoiter’d up an’ made a face;

Then turn’d an’ laid a smack on Grizzie

Syne tun’d his pipes wi’ grave grimace.

Robert Burns – Jolly Beggars.



Let me play you tunes without measure or end,
Tunes that are born to die without a herald,
As a flight of storks rises from a marsh, circles,
And alights on the spot from which it rose.

Flowers. A flower-bed like hearing the bagpipes.
The fine black earth has clotted into sharp masses
As if the frost and not the sun had come.
It holds many lines of flowers.

First faint rose peonies, then peonies blushing,
Then again red peonies, and, behind them,
Massive, apoplectic peonies, some of which are so red,
And so violent as to seem almost black; behind these,
Stands a low hedge of larkspur,
whose tender apologetic blossoms,
Appear by contrast pale, though some,
vivid as the sky above them,
Stand out from their fellows,
iridescent and slaty as a pigeon’s breast,

The bagpipes – they are screaming and they are sorrowful.
There is awail in their merriment, and cruelty in their triumph.
They rise and they fall like a weight swung in the air at the end of a string.
They are like the red blood of those peonies.
And like the melancholy of those blue flowers.
They are like a human voice – no! for the human voice lies!
They are like human life that flows under the words.
That flower-bed is like the true life that wants to express itself,
And does…while we human beings lie cramped and fearful.
— Hugh MacDairmid

Mony a piper has played himsel, Through battle and into daith.
And a piper’ll rise to the occasion still,
Whan the warld is brakin’ faith!
A trumpet may sound or harps be heard,
Or celestial voices sweet,
But wi nocht but the cry o’ the pipes can Earth
Or these…or silence…meet.

The pipes are the only instrument,
To soond Earth’s mortal hour;
But to greet what follows, if onything does,
Is no in even their power.
— Hugh MacDairmid, 20th century Scottish poet

Others will tell you that men of the Isles charged,
At Bannockburn to the skirl of the pipes,
That the sound of the pibroch rose loud and shrill
Where the fire was hottest at Waterloo;

At Alma its notes made the blood,
Surge in the viens of the Forty-second;
To the fainting men and women in the residency at Lucknow
The far off strains heralded miraculous deliverance.
At Dargai the pibroch sent the Gordons
Storming up the heights – and so the story goes on.
And they will tell you how when Scotland brought home
The greatest of her Heroes dead, the routineer Haig,
Whose lack of imagination carried him through;
But at what loss!

It was only when the piper came down the nave
Pouring forth the lament which enshrines the heroes of Flodden
And all the dead in all the Floddens of History.
Only then did the eyes grow dim with tears,
The sob rise in the throat, and sorrow for him
Who called the nation to put their backs to the wall
Find fit expression – for the world can change beyond expression
But the heart of man changes not.
(Like the God each side invokes in every war)
And yesterday, and today, and forever
The bagpipes commit to the winds of Heaven
The deepest emotions of the Scotsman’s heart
In joy and sorrow, in war and peace.
My duty done, I will try to follow you on the last day of the world,
And pray I may see you all standing shoulder to shoulder
With Patrick Mor MacCrimmon and Duncan Ban MacCrimmon
In the hollow at Boreraig or in front of Dunvegan Castle
Or on the lip of the broken graves in Kilmuir Kirkyard.
While the living stricken ghastly in the eternal light.
And the rest of the dead all risen blue-faced from their graves
(Though, the pipes to your hand, you will be once more
Perfectly at ease, and as you were in your prime)
All ever born, crowd the islands and the West of Scotland
Which has standing room for them all, and the air curdled with angels,
And every where that feeling seldom felt on the earth before
Save in the hearts of parents or in youth untouched by tragedy

That in its very search for personal experience often found
A like impersonality and self-forgetfulness,
And you playing: ‘Farewell to Scotland, and the rest of the Earth,’
The only fit music there can be for that day
And I will leap then and hide behind one of you,
Us Caismeachd phiob-mora bras shroiceadh am puirt*

Look! Is that only the setting sun again?
Or a piper coming from far away?

*Translated as ‘While the notes of the great pipes shrilly sound out their cries’ from Alasdair MacMhaighstir Alasdair
— Hugh MacDairmid, 20th century Scottish poet
‘With that Will Swane come sneakin out
Ane meikle miller man
Gif I sall dance, have done, let so
Blaw up the bagpyp then.’
— Peblis to the Play

Were I but able to rehearse
My ewie’s praise in proper verse,
I’d sound it forth as loud and fierce
As ever piper’s drone could blaw

There is a famous story in Bardic History when Gilbride came to Scotland to recover Domhnuill’s harp, he received the answer that its own possessor prized it above all Scotland’s forests, although it was only a bit of an old Irish tree.