Poem: The Wild Geese by Violet Jacob (1863 – 1946)
Tune by Jim Reid ( 1934 –2009)
Oh tell me what was on yer road ye roarin Norland wind?
As ye cam blawin frae the land that's never frae ma mind
Ma feet they traivel England but I'm deein for the North."
"Ma man, I saw the siller tides rin up the Firth o Forth."
"Aye wind, I ken them weel eneuch an fine they fa and rise,
And fain I'd feel the creepin mist on yonder shore that lies.
But tell me ere ye passed them by what saw ye on the way?"
"Ma man, I rocked the rovin gulls that sail abin the Tay."
"Bit saw ye naethin, leein wind afore ye cam tae Fife?
For there's muckle lyin 'yont the Tay that's mair tae me nor life."
"Ma man, I swept the Angus braes that ye hivna trod for years."
"Oh wind, forgie a hameless loon that canna see for tears."
"And far abin the Angus straths I saw the wild geese flee,
A lang, lang skein o beatin wings wi their heids toward the sea,
And aye their cryin voices trailed ahint them on the air."
"Oh wind, hae mercy, haud your wheesht for I daurna listen mair."
Daurna: dare not
Fain I’d : I would love to
Firth: an estuary, a wide inlet of the sea
Haud your wheesht: be quiet, hold your breath
Leein : lying
Loon: chap, boy
Norland: from the North or North East of Scotland
Straths: river valleys
This song appeared on Jim Reid’s album I See the Wild Geese Flee on the Springthyme label,1984, and has been a singers’ favourite ever since. His tune gave a new life and a wide audience for Violet Jacob’s poem, “The Wild Geese”, written in 1915, which expresses the longing for home felt by an exile in England – not just for Scotland but for her particular piece of country, the Angus straths.
“The Angus straths,” according to www.springthyme.co.uk/wildgeese “are farmland between the Grampian mountains of Highland Perthshire and the Firth of Tay – the Tay river estuary. The ancient ‘kingdom’ of Fife lies between the Tay to the north and the Firth of Forth to the south. Further south lies Edinburgh, the Lothians and the Pentland Hills.”
Violet Jacob’s grandmother was a daughter of the Duke of Clarence, who became King William the 4th, according to Voices From Their Ain Countrie. The family home was the House of Dun, Angus, but fellow-poet Helen Cruikshank said that Violet spent her childhood “aye in and oot amo’ the ploomen’s feet at the Mains o’Dun”. More often than not, the people appearing in her writing are the travellers, ploughmen and rural people of her childhood.
Her happy marriage to Arthur Otway Jacob, an Irish soldier, meant that she travelled to India, South Africa and Egypt, before returning to England. She suffered a heavy blow in the loss of her only child, Harry, who was killed at the Somme in 1916. When her husband died in 1936, she moved back to Scotland, to Kirriemuir, and wrote to a friend “ I always knew that, should I be left alone, the only thing that would keep me from breaking my heart would be to live in Angus.” (Voices From Their Ain Countrie: the poems of Marion Angus and Violet Jacob edited by Katherine Gordon)
Jim Reid (1934 – 2009) is described in the Herald’s obituary as a “singer songwriter who became one of the most valued upholders of the Scottish tradition.”
When he was chosen as Scottish singer of the Year at the 2005 Scots Trad Music Awards, his response “No afore time” was a wee joke from this modest man, but true nevertheless – he won his first singing competition aged seven.
Rob Adam’s Herald article says that Jim got hooked on traditional song during his national service, through hearing Seamus Ennis’s radio programme, As I Roved Out. Back home, Jim joined the Shifters, a Dundee folk group, and then the Taysiders. As a regular in the Arbroath Foundry Bar, he persuaded the session players to enter the ceilidh band competition at Kinross in 1971. They won, and Jim’s professional life in music seems to have taken off from there, with The Foundry Band and An Teallach and then as a solo performer. He was a much-loved and respected figure on the Folk scene.