Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Battlefield Band: The Yew Tree

I apologize for the absence of two days – our cable MODEM died and was not restored until late yesterday. So, we will pick up with our Traditional Tuesday song. This one is from Scotland’s Battlefield Band. I had the opportunity to hear them twice – once in Lewisburg, WV and again in Charleston, WV during the late 1980s.

“The Yew Tree” is a song that chronicles a brief history of Scotland's struggles and was part of the selections from their 1984 “Anthem for the Common Man” album. I was always impressed by this song and the band in general. I purchased a cassette of this and their “Celtic Hotel” cassettes directly from the band and had the members autograph the J-Cards for me. Both cassettes got a great amount of play in my car while on my many journeys in the late 80s and early 90s.


A mile frae Pentcaitland, on the road to the sea,
Stands a yew tree a thousand years old.
And the old women swear by the grey o' their hair,
That it knows what the future will hold.
For the shadows of Scotland stand round it:
'Mid the kail and the corn and the kye –
All the hopes and the fears of a thousand long years,
Under the Lothian sky

My bonnie yew tree:
Tell me what did you see?

Did you look through the haze o' the lang summer days
Tae the South and the far English border—
A' the bonnets o' steel on Flodden's far field.
Did they march by your side in good order?
Did you ask them the price o' their glory?
When you heard the great slaughter begin—
For the dust o' their bones would rise up from the stones,
To bring tears to the eyes o' the wind

My bonnie yew tree :
Tell me what did you see?

Not once did you speak for the poor and the weak.
When the moss-troopers lay in your shade,
To count out the plunder and hide frae the thunder—
And share out the spoils o' their raid.
But you saw the smiles o' the gentry,
And the laughter of lords at their gains.
When the poor hunt the poor across mountain and moor,
The rich man can keep them in chains.

My bonnie yew tree:
Tell me what did you see?

Did you no' think tae tell when John Knox himsel'?
Preached under your branches sae black—
To the poor common folk, who would lift up the yoke
O' the bishops and priests frae their backs.
But you knew the bargain he sold them,
And freedom was only one part.
For the price o' their souls was a gospel sae cold,
It would freeze up the joy in their hearts.

My bonnie yew tree:
Tell me what did you see?

And I thought as I stood and laid hands on your wood
That it might be a kindness to fell you.
One kiss o' the axe and you're freed frae the racks.
O' the sad bloody tales that men tell you—
But a wee bird flew out from your branches,
And sang out as never before.
And the words o' the song were a thousand years long.
And to learn them's a long thousand more.

My bonnie yew tree:
Tell me what CAN you see?

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