For as far I (Joseph Joh'n' Visser) have been able
to find the sentences Burs decided on to be "quite unfit
for insertion" there is the change in the (final) refrain
"The feather-bed is no' sae saft,
As a bed among the rashes, O"
"Yet a' the beds is no' sae saft,
As the bellies o' the lasses, O"
From Anastasia Corkery we have the variation
from (left) - into (right)
Texts by Robert Burns have
often, and unfairly, been taken out of context.
A famous example is
this "Green Grow the Rashes, O.
We're a' dry wi' drinkin'
We're a' dry wi' drinkin' o't,
The parson kissed the fiddler's wife,
And he couldna preach for thinki' o't.
Green growth rushes, O,
Blackbirds and thrushes, O,
The piper kissed the fiddler's wife,
Behind the Bunch of rushes, O.
Much as I like jocular poetry, the thin
lines between jocular, farcical, waggish, braod, coarse, bawdy,
unchaste and obscene make all the difference in a bathtub filled
with singing rugby-players; clubs have their very own tradition
to nuance that.
Many know Robert Burns as a poet of musts: 'To a Mouse',
'To A Mountain Daisy', or 'On Hearing a Thrush Sing
in a Morning Walk, in January', 'The wounded Hare',
and 'Tam o' Shanter', or (for the admirers) 'The Cotter's
Saturday Night', 'The Auld Farmer's New-Year-Morning Salutation
to his Auld Mare, Maggie, On giving her the accustomed ripp of
corn to hansel in the New-Year', and 'Twa Dogs'. These
show us a very special poet, a human being with the spirit to
bring hope to mankind; one to be kept in the hearts of many that
do not have an easy life. To day, very much so in Western Europe,
quite often we seem to forget that in order to get through a
humble life decently it needs this sort of seriousness; one would
need the (if only modest) luxury of 'leasure' to acknowledge
a writer for his wit in jocular poetry.
A disagreeable fact in the lives of artists is that although
society may benefit most of their 'serious stuff', this should
come free. The artist is to make this from his heart and 'thus'
live on thin air. This 'serious stuff' is irritating, heavy matter,
and it is disturbing to take it in when not exactly complying
with the 'way things are' and taking the rebellious way at which
point your life cannot take the humbleness any longer. On that
rebellious other side is 'fun'. Strangely 'fun', the thing that
is away from worry, is greatfully paid for; probably as the merit
coïncides with having the luxury of leasure.
From such circumstances we should look upon the jocular poetry
of Robert Burns.
Society and his life in it acquinted him with 'Bawdy Frolics'
unjustly mentioned so by Eric Lemuel Randall in 'The Merry Muses
and other Burnsian Frolics' in which he claims to have found
'the Secret Collections of Robert Burns'.
Yes!, Burns knew of all the 'bawdry frolics' as most of us know
our 'rugby songs', that may have surprisingly little to do with
rugby as a sport.
My mother (she most certainly was a bit of a lady) used to sing
these so called 'rugby songs' * when doing the more unpleasant kitchen work.
Her songs may have had more failing manhood in them as most rugby-songs
hurray the more agreeable features of womanhood.
No!, there is no such thing as a 'Secret
Collection' in Burns' case, why should he when he, and most others
in his time knew the more than once published, and much older
'Had I the wyte, had I the wyte' and so many others from
every street corner (on 'The Highland Hills, the Highland Hills',
a song most certainly fit for the ladies. Sadly I have never
found the actual text).
I am simply convinced that Robert Burns
was an honnest Bard when collecting the Scottish songs, as he
did for the 'Scotish Musical Museum', and thus collected what
he heard and read, altering the text only when absolutely necessary
for publication, as indeed the publisher states in his comments.
"The Lass That Made The Bed To Me"
Had I the wyte, had I the
Had I the wyte she bad me;
For she was steward in the house,
And I was fit-man ladddie;
And when I wadna' do't again,
A silly cow she ca'd me;
She straik't my head, and clapt my cheeks
And lous'd my breeks and bad me.
Could I for shame, could
I for shame,
Could I for shame deny her;
Or in the bed was I to blame,
She bad my lye beside her;
I pat six inches in her wame,
A quarter wadna fly'd her;
For ay the man I ca'd it hame,
Her ports they grew the wider.
My tartan plaid, when it
Could I refuse to share it;
She lifted up her hollan-sark,
And bad me fin' the gair o't:
Or how could I amang the garse,
But gie her hilt and hair o't;
She clasp'd her houghs about my arse,
And ay she glowr'd for mair o't.
From: 'The Merry Muses of
And from a much older edition, mentioned in 'The Merry Muses
GREEN grow the rashes, O,
Green grow the rashes, O;
The sweetest bed that e'er I got,
Was the bellies o' the lassies, O.
Twas late yestreen I met wi' ane,
And vow but she was gentle, O;
Ae han' she pat to my gravat,
The tither to my p----e, O.
I dought na speak, yet was na fly'd,
My heart play'd duntie, duntie, O.
A' ceremonie laid aside,
I fairly faund her c---e O.
Many a text has been written on this most popular tune;
we see however that it never surpasses the "Had I the wyte,
etc." in coarsness that is so straight foreward and honnest
in its very own way. Most have a certain bit of silliness in
their wording taking away effective bawdiness:
Green Grow the Rashes
Green grow the rashes, O,
Green grow the rashes, O,
The lassies the hae wimble-bores,
The widows they hae gashes, O.
O wat ye ought o' fishe Meg,
And how she trow'd the webster, O,
She loot me see her carrot c--t,
And sell'd it for a labster, O.
Mistress Mary cow'd her thing,
Because she wad be gentle, O,
And span the fleece upon a rock,
To waft a Highland mantle, O.
An' heard ye o' the coat o' arms,
The Lyon* brought our lady, O,
The crest was, couchant, sable c--t,
The motto ,"ready, ready, O,
An' ken ye Leezie Lundie, O,
The godly Leezie Lundie, O,
She m--s like reek thro' a the week,
But finger f---s on Sunday, O.
Lyon*: with the political implication, as we often
find the cruder texts as an expression of protest; more hated
appointments are strangely gifted with the more pleasurable fun
Of her favourite song my
mother knew two versions (she was after all a ranked, WWII, surgeon's
assitant), and I was happy to learn about: "Ivan Skavinsky
(ed: sung to "The Man on the Flying Trapeze")
The harems of Egypt are fine to behold,
The harlots the fairest of fair,
But the fairest of all was owned by a sheik,
Named Abdul Abulbul Emir.
And then again (with the growing years I more and more appreciate
her for doing both) she recited William Percy French's original:
ABDULLA BULBUL AMEER
Oh the sons of the Prophet are brave men and bold
And quite unaccustom'd to fear
But none were so reckless of life or of limb,
As Abdulla Bulbul Ameer.
(Both versions are easily to be found on the internet)