in print 1776
Oh, I hae lost my silken snood
That tied my hair sae yellow
I hae gien my hert tae the lad I looed
He was a gallant fellow
And twine it weel, my bonny doo
And twine it weel, the plaiden
The lassie lost her silken snood
In puin’ o the bracken
He praised my een, sae bonny blue
Sae lily white my skin, o
And syne he pree’d my bonny mou
And swore it was nae sin, o
But he has left the lass he looed
His ain true love forsaken
Which gars me sair tae greet the snood
I lost amangst the bracken
Bracken: tough woodland fern
Breacan, breckan: (Gaelic) tartan, tartan plaid,
Greet: weep for
Pree’d my mou: kissed me
Snood: ribbon to bind hair
Syne: then, afterwards
Plaid: rectangular piece of woollen cloth for outer clothing; or a woman’s scarf; or a blanket
Plaiden: coarse woollen cloth, usually tartan, for making plaids
This song was brought to Sangschule by Aileen Carr and is recorded on her CD Green Yarrow, where she says that the snood, “ a ribbon bound round the brow and tied at the back under the hair, was the status symbol of a young unmarried woman”.
The young woman in the song has lost her virginity as she lost her snood, and has then been deserted. As Aileen says, “The theme, alas, is as old as history.”
“The Silken Snood” is also included in the Lyric Gems of Scotland Vol.2, p106 (1856) under a different title – “The Puin’ O The Breckan” where the editor quotes Sir Walter Scott in a note to the “Lady of the Lake”:
“The snood or riband, with which a Scottish lass braided her hair, had an emblematical signification, and applied to her maiden character. It was exchanged for the curch, toy or coif, when she passed, by marriage, into the matron state. But if the damsel was so unfortunate as to lose pretensions to the name of maiden, without gaining a right to that of matron, she was neither permitted to use the snood, nor advanced to the graver dignity of the curch.”
The Lyric Gems editor adds that:
"In old Scottish songs there occur many sly allusions to such misfortunes, as in the old words to the popular tune of 'O'er the muir amang the heather'.
"Comin' through the broom at e'en / And comin' through the broom sae dreary,/ The lassie lost her silken snood,/ Which cost her many a blirt and blear't e'e."
The song makes an earlier appearance in print in the 18th century collection by David Herd, Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs (Vol.2) under the title "Twine Weel The Plaiden" and also in The Scots Musical Museum of 1787.
The meaning of the first part of the chorus: “Twine it weel, the plaiden” is not clear but perhaps suggests the lassie spinning with distaff and spindle, to make woollen yarn for the plaiden. This was very important woman’s work and a way for an unmarried woman (or spinster) to show what a good wife she would be.
She would pull out some of the fibres wound on the distaff, twine or twist them with thumb and forefinger and attach them to a hanging spindle whose weight would stretch and spin them into yarn. There is a good description on http://historymedren.about.com/
The task of “Puin’ the bracken” could be about collecting dried bracken for animal bedding, or to use as fuel. Bracken had many uses, recorded in this 16th century rhyming farming manual by Thomas Tusser, the Five Hundred Points of good Husbandry where it is called “brake”:
Get home with the brake, to brue with and bake
To cover the shed drie over the hed,
To lie under cow, to rot under mow,
To serve to burne, for many a turne
Joe aka Gutcher on Mudcat Forum, has a different interpretation:
"The clue to the meaning of parts of this song lies in one of its other titles "The Puin O The Breckan". Breckan [in its various spellings] is pure Gaelic and has no connection to the plant bracken, it being in fact a woven woollen cloth used in such garments as plaids and kilts.
The Black Watch, formed around 1738, wore the Breckan Dhu, the black plaiden.
We learn that the waulking of the woven woollen cloth was, at least in the South West of Scotland, referred to as "Puin the Breckan" and this usage would fit better with the rest of the song.”