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A' the Airts

  • (Robert Burns)
  • O' a' the airts the winds can blaw I dearly lo'e the west
    It's there a bonnie lassie lives, the lass that I lo'e best
    Where wildwoods grow and rivers row and mony's the hill between
    Baith day and night my fancie's flight is ever wi' ma Jean

    I see her in the dewy floo'ers sae fragrant, fresh and fair
    I hear her voice in every bird wha's music charms the air
    There's not a bonnie floo'er that springs by fountain, shaw or stream
    Nor yet a bonnie bird that sings but minds me o' ma Jean

    Sae blaw ye westlin' winds, blaw saft amang thy leafy glens
    Your gentle gale ower muir and dale blaw tae that place ye ken
    And bring the lass there back tae me that's aye sae fresh and clean
    There's nane I'll style aboon her, she's my ain, my bonnie Jean

    What sighs and vows amang yon knowes hae passed atween us twa
    Sae feign tae meet, sae wae tae pairt ere she should gang awa'
    The powers aboon can only know tae whom ma hairt's been gi'en
    There's nane I'll tak' afore her, she's my ain, my bonnie Jean

    Repeat 1

airts - directions
shaw - small wood in a hollow place

As sung by Ceolbeg / Davy Steele

Susannes Folksong-Notizen

  •  [1988:] Am Ufer des Nith, etwa 6 Meilen von Dumfries entfernt gelegen, ist dieser Pachthof [Ellisland] Entstehungsort von 'Tam O'Shanter' ebenso wie von vielen der besten Lieder und Gedichte. Hierhin zog Burns im Juni 1788, zuerst in eine verräucherte Hütte, bis er das Bauernhaus gebaut und eingerichtet hatte. Solange blieb seine jungvermählte Jean in Mauchline mit dem einen Kind, das von den vieren, die sie ihm bislang geboren, überlebt hatte. In Ellisland kamen die Söhne Francis und William zur Welt. Vier Jahre lang mühte sich Burns auf Ellisland ab, bis er Ende 1791, enttäuscht und entmutigt, nach Dumfries übersiedelte. (Camerer, Burns 169)

  •  [1900:] It was written in the midsummer of the year 1788, just when the poet had taken possession of the farm of Ellisland, in Dumfries-shire, and was overseeing the erection of a new farmhouse and offices there, previous to the reception of Jean Armour as his legalised wife. His own note to it is simply this: "This air is by Marshal; the song composed out of compliment to Mrs. Burns. N.B. - It was during the honeymoon." Earlier in the same year he sent a fragment of song - My Jean - to Johnson's 'Museum' [...]. In these ruder, but not less impassioned, lines we discover the germ of the perfect lyric under comment. From the figure

    Tho' mountains rise and deserts howl
    And oceans roar between

    the step in improvement is brief to

    There's wild woods grow, and rivers flow
    And mony a hill between.

    And what follows these lines in either verse is not dissimilar in sentiment. The exact date of the song, Of a' the airts, was presumably betwixt the 12th and 22nd of June, while the poet was in his solitude on the banks of the Nith, and his bonnie Jean was at Mossgiel - to quote his own words - "regularly and constantly apprenticed to my mother and sister in their dairy and other rural business," for about this time also he represents his favourite mare, 'Jenny Geddes', as being homesick [...]. The poet, too, is casting longing looks in the "westlan'", or, more strictly speaking, "north-westlan' airt," and his cry is

    Of a' the airts the wind can blaw I dearly like the west
    For there the bonnie lassie lives, the lassie I lo'e best
    There's wild woods grow, and rivers row, and mony a hill between
    But day and night, my fancy's flight is ever wi' my Jean
    I see her in the dewy flowers, I see her sweet and fair
    I hear her in the tunefu' birds, I hear her charm the air
    There's not a bonnie flower that springs by fountain, shaw or green
    There's not a bonnie bird that sings but minds me o' my Jean

    That is the song exactly as Burns wrote it; though, in all the song collections, other verses are added, and even these are differently phrased. Some editors, in bad taste, have printed "lo'e" in the second line instead of "like", and nearly all have written

    Though wild woods grow
    Wi' mony a hill between
    Baith day and night
    With the second double stanza, still greater liberty has been taken; and, I think, to the improvement of the song. Let the reader compare the above with the following: -

    I see her in the dewy flower sae lovely, sweet and fair
    I hear her voice in ilka bird wi' music charm the air
    There's not a bonnie flower that springs by fountain, shaw or green
    Nor yet a bonnie bird that sings but minds me o' my Jean

    The briefness of the song, too, has tempted some respectable versifiers to make additions to it, for the sixteen lines of the text just go once through the melody. Mr. William Reid, a late bookseller in Glasgow - an inveterate song-tinker, [...] attempted a continuation. But Reid's lines, though frequently printed, are never sung.

    [Upon the banks ... The gamesome lamb ...]
    Mr. John Hamilton, of Edinburgh, author of Up in the morning early, next made the attempt, and with much more success. His verses, in tenderness of feeling and beauty of imagery, are not inferior to those of Burns, although they may contain anachronisms, as Mr. Scott Douglas not unreasonably avers. Hamilton's addition, which is invariably sung, is as follows: - [cf. verses 3 and 4 above].

    These verses, says Mr. Scott Douglas, are very musical and expressive; but were, unfortunately, composed under the mistaken idea that the absence of Jean, referred to in Burns's song, was that of spring, 1786, when she removed to Paisley to avoid him. On the poet's own authority, however, the date and the occasion of the song are rendered certain, and, at that time, instead of imploring the west winds to "bring the lassie back" to him, he had only to return to her; and, moreover, she could not come back to Ellisland, where she had never yet been.

    Notwithstanding these anachronisms, it is no small compliment to Mr. Hamilton that Burns's own sixteen lines are now seldom dissociated from his imitator's supplementary ones. Cunningham boldly tells his readers that the whole thirty-two lines are from Burns's own manuscript; Lockhart quotes the added lines as the poet's own; and Professor Wilson, in his famous "Essay", adopts Hamilton's addendum as an authentic part of the song. Its only weak line is:

    That's aye sae neat and clean
    which is not poetical at all - has nothing charming about it - and might read
    Wi' her twa witchin' een -

    which is at once the language of love and poetry, and runs in a line with the rest of the sentiment. (Ford, Histories 259 ff)

  • [1986:] Robert first encountered Jean Armour sometime in 1784, long before Elizabeth Paton bore him his first baby in May 1785. Jean was eighteen years old at that time, her hair a cluster of dark ringlets framing large, widely-spaced eyes above prominent cheek-bones. Her only portrait was painted in her widowhood, when her mouth had tightened, but it preserves a face that must have been beautiful, as well as a steady, unabashed outlook on life. Jean was said to have possessed a fine figure as well.

    How soon Robert possessed Jean, whether she replaced Paton in his bed, or they took turn and turn about for a space, cannot be determined. [...] He wrote in September 1785, before any question of Jean's pregnancy could have influenced his attitude: 'to have a woman to lie with when one pleases, without running any risk of the cursed expence of bastards and all the other concomitants of that species of smuggling - these are solid views of matrimony.' Not very romantic ones, however; [but] the author of some of the most tender and lofty love lyrics in the English language was apt to descend to earth with a thud in his prose.

    When the New Year of 1786 arrived, the argument in favour of marriage had gained weight with Jean's condition. The mystery to which there is no certain answer, though many hypotheses, is what prompted Burns, instead of marrying Jean, to descend to the most elaborate subterfuges to evade the status of a married man. Jean's father, it is true, would have none of him as a son-in-law, and packed his pregnant daughter off to relatives in Paisley. But under the law of Scotland Burns could claim that Jean was in fact his wife 'by use and wont', of which her pregnancy provided incontestable proof. There was no need for him to give her a written declaration, though he did this. The question is, who advised him to do this, and with what motive. It has been surmised that the lawyer Gavin Hamilton drew it up for him: certainly it was his other legal friend Robert Aiken from Ayr who visited the Armours and advised Jean's father to cut the signatures out of the bard's declaration. Superfluous as the document had been in the first place, as any lawyer would have known, it would have been far simpler to throw it in the fire, unless the mutilated version could serve a legal purpose, as evidence.

    The essential fact it could demonstrate was that Burns had made an honourable proposal of marriage, which had been formally rejected. This the bard emphasised from now on, in a histrionic manner, as though he were collecting witnesses for his submission that he was now legally a bachelor, rather than a married man by use and wont. In April he wrote to Hamilton accepting the loss of Jean as final, and blaming both her and Aiken for the outcome. This letter might provide another piece of material evidence. '[...] Though I had not a hope, nor a wish, to make her mine after her damnable conduct, yet when he told me the names were cut out of the paper my heart died within me [...].' In case Armour should destroy the paper, Burns had written at once to the other lawyer in the case, providing corroboratory evidence. [...]

    Burns dramatized his situation in a remarkable letter [...]. In it, the miserable Jean was sacrificed on the altar of art. 'I had long had a wishing eye to that inestimable blessing, a wife. [...]' He went on to claim that he had made Jean pregnant with the deliberate intention of claiming her as his wife under Scots Law, as he could have done but did not. [...]

    Nothing that Burns did or wrote at this time can be explained entirely unless he was seeking to escape from a criminal charge of bigamy. Nor is the part of Aiken the lawyer comprehensible - or of Hamilton either - unless they were abetting him in the stratagem by which he succeeded in establishing his status as a bachelor so far as Jean Armour was concerned. The other girl in the case was Mary Campbell, and it is noteworthy that she was the only girl in his entire life about whom he was both secretive and mendacious. [...] Robert's family remained equally tight-lipped about Mary, even after the bard's death. But his mother and sister Isabella then deposed that he had consorted with her only after he had been 'deserted' by Jean Armour. Their exact dating is noteworthy. Jean was sent to Paisley in March and Mary died in October, possibly in child-birth, or soon after she had borne a child which died also. If Burns did not associate with her till after Jean had left him, then he could not have been responsible for this, and might escape a charge of bigamy.

    But Mary Campbell came to Gavin Hamilton's home in Mauchline as a nursemaid to his son Alexander, who was born on 13 July 1785. So Burns would have had ample opportunity to make her acquaintance earlier. [...]

    Among the few hard facts about their relationship that have survived in the systematic cover-up is Burns's promise of marriage. The material evidence consists of a Bible in two volumes, preserved today in the Ayr monument. Whether or not he gave it to her when she left Mauchline to return home on 14 May 1786, this Bible bears witness that he had plighted his troth to her. It also reveals that Mary's family were as little pleased as the Armours when they saw Robert's declaration to Jean. One volume was inscribed with Mary's name, the other with Robert's, and both have been partially erased. But the Bible contains Robert's mason's mark [...]. It has been suggested that the Campbell family could not bring themselves to destroy so valuable a property, and indeed it has proved to be of inestimable value. But in any case, such people did not treat the Word of God with disrespect. They did, however, display implacable hostility to Burns after Mary's death.

    This has to be accounted for, like the attitude of the Armours. So do the eccentric, almost hysterical acts and words of Burns during the summer of 1786. His letter to John Arnot complaining of Jean Armour's removal to Paisley rises to a crescendo of desperation in which the predicament of the poor girl is totally forgotten. [...]

    Allowing for his delight in self-dramatization, we may conclude that Burns was in considerable danger of some kind. [...] Robert Burns, in fact, was in a fix, and it brought out the canny side of his character as well as the poetic one. He took the practical steps which anyone of sense might do if he stood in danger of arrest on a criminal charge of bigamy. His pledge to Mary Campbell presumably remained a secret in Mauchline, the attitude of her parents uncertain. But the imbroglio with Jean Armour was public knowledge. The Armours could have held him to his promise to marry the girl but instead they had repudiated him. While Burns trumpeted his tragedy into every ear, he turned it to his salvation by applying for a bachelor's certificate from his parish Minister. That would release him from a charge of bigamy if Mary Campbell's parents were to adopt a different attitude.

    At the same time he made arrangements to leave the country. [...]

    Compliant as Jean was to remain all her life in her devotion to the bard, she sent a confession to the Church Session on 18 June. '[...] I acknowledge that I am with child, and Robert Burns in Mossgiel is the father. [...]' A week later Robert appeared before the Church Session in person to admit the truth of the allegation. [...]

    Certainly Robert was allowed to stand in his pew in church, rather than beside Jean in the place of repentence [sic!], on the three successive Sabbaths when their sins were expounded from the pulpit. As he wrote to David Brice, 'I have already appeared publicly in Church, and was indulged in the liberty of standing in my own seat. I do this to get a certificate as a bachelor, which Mr. Auld has promised me. I am now fixed to go for the West Indies in October.' He had begun making his plans to do this in April, and during this year he protested that he was doing it in order to earn the means for Mary Campbell's support, to whom he was betrothed. [...]

    As for ruin and disgrace, Robert found himself confronting a new danger in July, while he was making his peace with the Church, and arranging to leave the country. James Armour obtained a writ against him on the grounds that he planned to flee from his financial obligations to Jean. Robert learnt of it in time to execute a deed conveying all his property to his brother Gilbert on 22 July, before the writ could be served, which he avoided by going into hiding. [...] Once again, Jean is the scapegoat, although it appears to have been she who sent Burns timely warning of what her father intended. [...]

    But the previous April, while Jean was in Paisley and he was consoling himself with Mary, he had taken another practical step besides his arrangements to emigrate. He had approached a printer in Kilmarnock with a view to having his poetry published. [...] On 31 July 1786 was published 'Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect'. [...]

    Burns' summer of mental torment might have flowed into an autumn of euphoria. He had obtained the vital bachelor's certificate in August. In September Jean Armour had been delivered safely of the twins named Robert and Jean and they were left in the care of his mother. Only a few weeks later he found himself transformed from a local celebrity into a national poet. Yet he remained in a state of anguish [...]. The only conceivable cause for his continuing anxiety is Mary Campbell. [...] The reason why she should have [gone from Campbeltown to Greenock in October] is as mysterious as the cause of her remaining at home without working during the preceding months, unless she was pregnant. Whether or not she stayed with a relative called Peher MacPherson, as Jean Armour had gone to stay with kinsfolk in Paisley, it was MacPherson who buried her in his lair in the old Greenock West Churchyard when she died soon after her arrival. Burns' youngest sister was to relate that a letter was delivered at Mossgiel late in October, which he took to the light of a window to read. Deeply upset, he then left the room without a word to anyone and disappeared from his home. Nobody knows who wrote that letter.

    The bard's most comprehensive and universally respected biographer, the American scholar Dr Franklyn Snyder, left no doubt of his belief that Mary became pregnant by Burns about a month after Jean Armour did, and that he made them both a declaration of marriage, unneccessary in each case under Scots Law. (Ian Grimble, Robert Burns 49ff)

    Immediately he wrote to Clarinda, and described his meeting with Jean [Armour in February 1788]; 'twas setting the expiring glimmer of a farthing taper beside the cloudless glory of the meridian sun. Here was tasteless insipidity, vulgarity of soul, and mercenary fawning; there, polished good sense, heaven-born genius, and the most generous, the most delicate, the most tender Passion. I have done with her, and she with me.' As the world knows, they had done no such thing. [...]

    By the end of April the bard was writing to his friend James Smith the linen draper, 'to let you into the secrets of my pericranium, there is, you must know, a certain clean-limbed, handsome, bewitching young hussy of your acquaintance, to whom I have lately and privately given a matrimonial title to my corpus.' [...] But he did not tell Clarinda, leaving her to find out by hearsay. [...]

    But why did Burns so suddenly marry Jean Armour, after all the scurrilous remarks he had made about her to all and sundry? He had recently completed his training for the Excise, whose commissioners may well have been concerned about the irregularity of his personal life. It has been suggested that they might have insisted on his marriage as a condition of his employment, and although there is no evidence for this, no more plausible explanation has been found for the step he took.

    On 5 August 1788 the union was recorded formally by the Church Session of Mauchline, and five days later Burns offered to [his correspondent] Mrs Dunlop this specious explanation for his failure to choose a more appropriate spouse. 'Circumstanced as I am, I could never have got a female Partner for life who could have entered into my favourite studies, relished my favourite Authors, &c, without entailing on me, at the same time, expensive living, fantastic caprice, apish affection, with all the other blessed Boarding-school acquirements.' It is a misogynist's view of the opposite sex, penned by a man to whom women were a necessity in the byre and the bed. [...]

    From June 1788 until May 1789 Burns battled with the builders who were erecting his new home at Ellisland. [...] Jean remained at Mossgiel, some forty-five miles away, learning the secrets of dairy management from the bard's mother. These were inauspicious circumstances [...]. Not least of the inconveniences was the distance that separated him from his wife, which moved him to compose one of his most tender love songs, [...] 'I love my Jean', to the tune, 'Miss Admiral Gordon's Strathspey'. (Grimble, Robert Burns 84ff)

See also
Of A' the Airts the Wind Can Blaw (Burns)

Quelle: Scotland

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28.10.1999, aktualisiert am 02.04.2010, 06.03.2009