The Silver Tassie

by Robert Burns (1759 – 96)

Gae fetch tae me a pint o wine
And fill it in a siller tassie
That I may drink before I go
A service tae my bonny lassie

The boat rocks at the pier o Leith,
Fu' loud the wind blaws fae the Ferry,
The ship rides by the Berwick Law,
And I maun leave my bonny Mary

The trumpets sound, the banners fly,
The glittering spears are ranked ready,
The shouts o war are heard afar,
The battle closes deep and bloody.

It's not the roar o sea on shore
Wad mak me langer wish tae tarry,
Nor shouts o war that's heard afar:
It's leaving thee, my bonny Mary

: a rounded hill
Maun: must
Service : a serving of wine or spirits
Tassie: goblet

This song was brought to Sangschule by Scott and Anne Murray of Sangsters. It is included on their Greentrax CD Sharp and Sweet where the note says “The air is credited to James Oswald, circa 1742. Burns is said to have witnessed the parting from his sweetheart of a young officer embarking for foreign service from the port of Leith.”

It was first published in the Scots Musical Museum vol.3 in 1790 under the title ‘My Bony Mary’. (This indicates the spelling of “bonny” at the time, and has no reference to Mary’s build.)

Burns claimed the song as his own except for the first four lines, according to The Canongate Burns (2003). In a letter to Mrs Dunlop (p.163 in Mackay’s Complete Letters of Robert Burns) he mentions the first lines as an old stanza which pleased him mightily, and in a letter to the publisher, George Thomson (p. 643) he wrote “ It is a song of mine, and I think not a bad one.”

“The Ferry” would be Queensferry but the song does not tell us for which war the singer is leaving.