How blithe was I ilk morn tae see
My lass come o'er the hill
She skipped the burn and ran tae me
I met her wi good will.
O the broom, the bonnie, bonnie broom
The broom o the Cowdenknowes
Fain would I be in my ain country
Herding her faither's yowes
We neither herded yowes nor lamb
While his flock near us lay
She gaithered in the sheep at nicht
And cheered me a the day
Hard fate that I should banished be
Gang wearily and mourn
Because I loed the fairest lass
That ever yet was born
Fareweel, ye Cowdenknowes, fareweel
Fareweel a’ pleasures there
To wander by her side again
Is a’ I crave or care
Cowdenknowes: in the valley of the river Leader in Berwickshire ( R.Chambers)
The song takes place in a farming world before fields were enclosed and when sheep and cattle needed to be looked after in their wanderings. In the 18th century, this world was revolutionised by the introduction of sown grasses and turnips, which allowed farm animals to be fed during the winter, but meant that the crops had to be protected by fences and dykes.
This lyric dates at least to 1724 when it appears in The Tea-table Miscellany, signed with the initials S.R. Robert Chambers has put the song into his 1903 collection Scottish Songs Prior to Burns. He does not believe the lyric is much older than its 1724 appearance and comments that it is “a comparatively modern creation, probably on the basis of some lost original”.
The tune, however, he believes to be very old. Chambers says that tunes with the same name or similar are quoted from early times e.g. “Broom, the Bonny, Bonny Broom” in Playford’s Dancing Master of 1650. Chambers accepts the opinion of a scholar, Mr William Chappell, that the date is earlier still, quoting the tune “Brume, Brume on Hil” from the list of melodies in the Complaynt Of Scotland of 1548. He concludes that we “seem to obtain a hint that our Broom Of The Cowdenknowes is the representative of an air of uncommon antiquity.”