Flowers of the Forest
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Lesley Nelson-Burns

According to The Scots Musical Museum there is a fragment of an old ballad in the Skene Manuscript titled The flowres of the Forrest, and an air so titled appeared in Oswald's collection and several others. However, the old ballad did not survive, and later three versions were written.

The earliest version was this one, by Mrs. Cockburn. According to the Museum, a man known to Mrs. Cockburn heard a shepherd playing a flute. Fascinated by the air, he learned it was The Flowers of the Forest. He committed the air to memory and communicated it to Mrs. Cockburn. She recognized the tune and knew some lines of the old ballad. He prevailed upon her to write new words.

Jane (Jean) Elliot (1727-1805) also wrote the poem The Flowers of the Forest A Lament for Flodden. She published it anonymously circa 1755. It was, at the time, thought to be an ancient surviving ballad. However, Burns suspected it was an imitation, and Burns, Ramsay and Sir Walter Scott eventually discovered who wrote the song.

Another version, beginning "Adieu ye streams that smoothly glide," was written by Mrs. John Hunter.

The Battle of Flodden Field took place in 1513. Because of the alliance between Scotland and France, James IV attacked England when Henry VIII invaded France. The Battle of Flodden was a disaster for the Scots, with estimates of Scottish losses numbering as high as ten thousand. Numerous nobles were killed in the battle, including King James.

Flowers of the Forest has since come to be used to commemorate lost relatives. For a solo bagpipe version by Barry Taylor, click here.

I've seen the smiling
Of fortune beguiling,
I've tasted her pleasures,
And felt her decay;
Sweet is her blessing,
And kind her caressing,
But now they are fled
And fled far away.

I've seen the forest
Adorned the foremost,
Wi' flowers o' the fairest
Baith pleasant and gay,
Sae bonnie was their blooming,
Their scent the air perfuming,
But now they are withered away.

I've seen the morning,
With gold hills adorning,
And loud tempests storming,
Before parting day,
I've seen Tweed's silver streams,
Glitt'ring in the sunny beams,
Grow drumlie and dark,
As they roll'd on their way;

O fickle fortune!
Why this cruel sportin?
Oh! Why thus perplex
Us poor sons of a day?
Thy frown canna fear me,
Thy smile canno cheer me,
Since the flowers o' the forest
Are a' wede away.

Related Links
From Songs of Scotland The Royal Edition, Volume I and
Scots Musical Museum
See Bibliography for full information.