by Robert Burns
Tune: Green Grow The Rashes
Green grow the rashes, O;
Green grow the rashes, O;
The sweetest oors that e'er I spend,
Are spent amang the lasses, O.
There's nought but care on ev'ry han',
In ev'ry oor that passes, O:
What signifies the life o' man,
An' 'twere na for the lasses, O.
The war'ly race may riches chase,
An' riches still may fly them, O;
An' tho' at last they catch them fast,
Their hearts can ne'er enjoy them, O.
But gie me a cannie hour at e'en,
My arms about my dearie, O;
An' war'ly cares, an' war'ly men,
May a' gae tapsalteerie, O!
For you sae douce, ye sneer at this;
Ye're nought but senseless asses, O:
The wisest man the warl' e'er saw,
He dearly lov'd the lasses, O.
Auld Nature swears, the lovely dears
Her noblest work she classes, O:
Her prentice han' she try'd on man,
An' then she made the lasses, O.
An ‘twere na: if it were not
Cannie: pleasant, quiet
Douce: sedate, sober
Wisest man the warl’ ere knew: (ref. to Solomon)
This song first appears, without its final verse, in Burns’s first Commonplace Book –one of two he kept between 1783 and 1787 – in which he recorded drafts of songs and other writings. First he entered an essay on “the two grand classes” of young men, the “Grave and the Merry.” He had intended an “elaborate dissertation” but said that he could not please himself with the arrangement of his ideas and would have to wait for experience and nicer observation to throw more light on the subject.
“In the meantime”, Burns says, “ I shall set down the following fragment which, as it is the genuine language of my heart, will enable anybody to determine which of the Classes I belong to.’ This was in 1784 when he was 25.
“Green Grow The Rashes O” was first printed in the ‘Edinburgh Edition’ of his works, 1787.
Burns headed his first Commonplace Book “Observations, Hints, Songs, Scraps of Poetry, etc by Robert Burness”. He bought the blank paper and had it stitched up for him in book form. Years later he commented” On rummaging over some old papers, I lighted on a manuscript of my early years, in which I had determined to write myself out; as I was placed by Fortune among a class of men to whom my ideas would have been nonsense – I had meant that the book would have lain by me, in the fond hope that, some time or other, even after I was no more, my thoughts would fall into the hands of somebody capable of appreciating their value.”
The Canongate Burns quotes a further verse found in manuscripts in Lady Stair’s House, Edinburgh:
Frae man’s ain side God made his wark / That a’ the lave surpasses O / The Man but lo’es his ain heart’s bluid / Wha dearly lo’es the lasses O
A song in Ramsay’s Tea-table Miscellany (1723-37) suggests the long-term association between rashes and ‘the lasses.’ Peggy complains to Jocky that there’s no help for what he’s done, for her mother sees a change on her ‘And this alas, has been with thee / Sae late amang the rashes.’ Jocky suggests that they just get married ‘And then we’ll try a feather-bed / ‘Tis safter than the rashes.’
The tune 'Green Grow The Rashes' is much older than Burns. Chambers in Scottish Songs Before Burns quotes “ a manuscript broadside political song of the reign of William and Mary” to this tune. He further says that a song “from old times” using the refrain once “passed current amongst innocent people, but would now be utterly condemned” and in order to convey the air he is “driven to the expedient of presenting it” with “two of the verses of a comic song written for the same air by Burns.” He quotes our chorus and the verse beginning ‘Auld nature swears’.