MacCorkill's Scottish - Flowers of the Forrest

Scone's Scottish and Celtic Internet Book

Scottish Highlands and Islands Partnership


Scottish History and Culture &

"Flowers of the Forrest"

presented by

Nancy MacCorkill

"another page in my book"


Originally written to commemorate the fallen Scots at the battle of Flodden, Flowers of the Forest has become a tune to be used to commemorate lost relatives.

Tune solo bagpipe version by Barry Taylor.

According to The Scots Musical Museum there is a fragment of an old ballad in the Skene Manuscript titled 'The Flowres of the Forrest', and an air so titled appeared in Oswald's collection and several others. However, the old ballad did not survive, and later three versions were written.

The earliest version was the one presented here, by Mrs. Cockburn. According to the Museum, a man known to Mrs. Cockburn heard a shepherd playing a flute. Fascinated by the air, she learned it was The Flowers of the Forest. He committed the air to memory and communicated it to Mrs. Cockburn. She recognized the tune and knew some lines of the old ballad. He prevailed upon her to write new words.

Jane (Jean) Elliot (1727-1805) also wrote the poem The Flowers of the Forest A Lament, for Flodden. She published it anonymously circa 1755. It was, at the time, thought to be an ancient surviving ballad. However, Burns suspected it was an imitation, and Burns, Ramsay and Sir Walter Scott eventually discovered who wrote the song.

Another version, beginning "Adieu ye streams that smoothly glide," was written by Mrs. John Hunter.

The Battle of Flodden Field took place in 1513. Because of the alliance between Scotland and France, James IV attacked England when Henry VIII invaded France. The Battle of Flodden was a disaster for the Scots, with estimates of Scottish losses numbering as high as ten thousand. Numerous nobles were killed in the battle as well, including King James.

Flowers of the Forest has since come to be used to commemorate lost relatives.

Flowers of the Forrest

I've seen the smiling Of fortune beguiling,
I've tasted her pleasures,
And felt her decay;
Sweet is her blessing,
And kind her caressing,
But now they are fled
And fled far away.

I've seen the forest
Adorned the foremost,
Wi' flowers o' the fairest
Baith pleasant and gay,
Sae bonnie was their blooming,
Their scent the air perfuming,
But now they are withered away.

I've seen the morning,
With gold hills adorning,
And loud tempests storming,
Before parting day,
I've seen Tweed's silver streams,
Glitt'ring in the sunny beams,
Grow drumlie and dark,
As they roll'd on their way;

O fickle fortune!
Why this cruel sportin?
Oh! Why thus perplex
Us poor sons of a day? Thy frown canna fear me,
Thy smile canno cheer me,
Since the flowers o' the forest
Are a' wede away.

Presented by Scone.....
Sources: Scots Musical Museum
Book, Robert Burns Works
Book, Skeen Scottish Music

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