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And yesterday and today and forever The bagpipes commit to the winds of Heaven The deepest emotions of the Scotman’s heart In joy and sorrow, in war and peace. ——Hugh MacDiarmid, “Lament for the Great Music”, in Complete Poems

He ceas’d, and to his wee mouth, dewy-wet,
His bagpipe’s tube of silver up he held,
And underneath his down-press’d arm he set
His purple bag, that with a tempest swell’d;
He play’d and pip’d so sweet, that never yet
MAG had a piper heard that Puck excell’d:
Had Midas heard a tune so exquisite,
By Heav’n! his long base ears had quiver’d with delight.

Tingle the fire-ir’ns, poker, tongs, and grate,
Responsive to the blithesome melody;
The tables and the chairs inanimate
Wish they had muscles now to trip it high;
Wave back and forwards at a wondrous rate,
The window-curtains, touch’d with sympathy;
Fork, knife, and trencher, almost break their sloth,
And caper on their ends upon the table-cloth.
— THE ANSTER FAIR, William Tennant 1821

Their sound is perhaps the only one I know that works in the stomach. It comes like a hard meat, stringy with gristle…More than the drab guads of Caledonia they still flaunt in for Burns suppers and tourism, it steams and twitches in the caulderon of belonging, the long vault of Celtic exile. Every man who hears it is a king in the blood, returned out of the foreign slime to renew his dead alliance. ——George MacBeth, My Scotland, London, MacMillan, 1973.

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Mony a piper has played himsel
Through battle and into death.
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

Scottish Bagpipes Who Said What? 


First set up by clan chiefs keen to bring more tourism into their areas, the Highland Games have flourished beyond all expectations. The first Games grew up around those activities traditionally enjoyed by crofters, to while away long winter evenings—piping, tug o’ war, pillow-fights…But some of these sports have been superseded in recent years by more contemporary pursuits, such as Spotting the Beer Tent and Trying to Find Somewhere to Park. ——Scotland For Beginners, 1314 an’ a’ that, by Rupert Besley, 2001


A voice from the gates of hell
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.

— Written by Lewis Glyn Cothi (1447-1486) A welsh bard who heard the bagpipes at Saxon Wedding (From the Saxons of Flint.)
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