Lady Mary Ann

by Robert Burns (1759 – 96) - adapted from an old song
Tune: Mrs MacDonald of Dunacht

Lady Mary Ann looks ower the castle wa
She spies three bonny boys playin at the ba,
The youngest o them was the flooer o them
My bonny laddie's young but he's growin yet

Faither, o faither, an if ye think it fit,
We'll send him a year tae the college yet,
We'll tie a green ribbon roond aboot his hat,
And that'll let them ken he's tae mairry yet.

Lady Mary Ann was a flooer in the dew,
Sweet was its smell, and bonny was its hue,
The longer it blossom'd, the sweeter it grew,
And the lily in the bud will be bonnier yet.

Young Chairlie Cochrane was the sproot o
an aik,
Bonny and bloomin and straucht was its make,
The sun took delight for to shine for its sake,
And it'll be the brag o the forest yet.

The simmer is gane, when the leaves they
are green,
Past are the days that we hae seen,
But far better days I trust will come again,
For my bonny laddie's young but he's
growin yet

Aik: oak
An if: if
Brag: boast
Straught: straight

Christine Kydd, Sangschule’s first and founding tutor, brought us this song. Her tune is the one used by traveller Lizzie Higgins which can be heard on the website for Tobar an Dualchais, the Kist O Riches,

There Lizzie explains that she got the words from an old aunt of her father’s, but did not like the air. Her father, Donald Higgins, a piper, suggested part of the pipe tune, ‘Mrs MacDonald of Dunacht’, which fitted the words perfectly. He told her that it was composed by J R McColl of Oban, who had lived about a hundred and thirty years earlier.

Lizzie’s words, like Christine’s, are very close to Robert Burns’s version, printed in the Scots Musical Museum of 1792.
According to The Canongate Burns, it “ is adapted from an old song Burns may have heard sung.” The old words they quote appear in Songs From David Herd’s Manuscripts :

She saw three Lords play at the ba’ / O the youngest is the flower of a’
She looked o’er the castle wa’ / But my love is lang o’ growing

“Burns set his revised lyric to a new tune, and so altered the metre” according to The Canongate Burns. Burns’ tune, unnamed in the Musical Museum is not the one Lizzie and Christine used.

In Burns’s “Lady Mary Ann” the lady chooses for herself a boy who is bonny but too young, she suggests sending him to college meantime and the song ends with good hopes for “far better days” when he will be old enough to marry. Many other versions exist in which, after early marriage and fatherhood, death puts an end to his growing.

Examples are “The College Boy”, as in The Scottish Folksinger edited by Buchan and Hall, and “My Bonnie Laddie’s Lang, Lang o’ Growing” from Ord’s Bothy Songs and Ballads. Other titles are “Still Growin”, or “The Trees They Do Grow High”.

The same tale is told in “The Young Laird of Craystoun” or” Craigstown” or “Young Craigton”. A note in the Greig-Duncan Collection, Vol 6, quotes a story identifying the young man : The estate of Craystoun or Craigston was acquired by John Urquhart , ‘better known as Tutor of Cromarty’. The writer understood that the ballad referred to Urquhart’s grandson, who married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Thomas Innes and had one son. “The father died in 1631. – the son 1634”. Greig took this information from A North Countrie Garland by James Maidment.

English collector A L Lloyd sings “The Trees They Grow So High”, on an album, now a CD called England And Her Traditional Songs. He knew of the “Young Craigton” story but speculates in his sleeve-notes that the song “may originate in the Middle Ages when the joining of two family fortunes by child-marriage was not unusual.”

A website records 6 lyrics as sung by 6 English performers: