There was once a day, but old Time was then young, That brave Caledonia, the chief of her line, From some of your northern deities sprung, (Who knows not that brave Caledonia's divine?) From Tweed to the Orcades was her domain, To hunt, or to pasture, or do what she would: Her heav'nly relations there fixed her reign, And pledg'd her their godheads to warrant it good. A lambkin in peace, but a lion in war, The pride of her kindred, the heroine grew: Her grandsire, old Odin, triumphantly swore, - "Whoe'er shall provoke thee, th' encounter shall rue!" With tillage or pasture at times she would sport, To feed her fair flocks by her green rustling corn; But chiefly the woods were her fav'rite resort, Her darling amusement, the hounds and the horn. Long quiet she reigned; till thitherward steers A flight of bold eagles from Adria's strand: Repeated, successive, for many long years, They darken'd the air , and they plunder'd the land: Their pounces were murder, and horror their cry, They'd conquer'd and ruin'd a world beside; She took to her hills, and her arrows let fly, The daring invaders they fled or they died. The Cameleon-Savage disturb'd her repose, With tumult, disquiet, rebellion, and strife; Provok'd beyond bearing, at last she arose, And robb'd him at once of his hopes and his life: The Anglian lion, the terror of France, Oft prowling, ensanguin'd the Tweed's silver flood; But , taught by the bright Caledonian lance, He learned to fear in his own native wood. The fell Harpy-raven took wing from the north, The scourge of the seas, and the dread of the shore; The wild Scandinavian boar issued forth To wanton in carnage and wallow in gore: O'er countries and kingdoms their fury prevail'd, No arts could appease them, no arms could repel; But brave Caledonia in vain they assail'd, As Largs well can witness, and Loncartie tell. Thus bold, independent, unconquer'd, and free, Her bright course of glory for ever shall run: For brave Caledonia immortal must be; I'll prove it from Euclid as clear as the sun: Rectangle-triangle, the figure we'll chuse: The upright is Chance, and old Time is the base; But brave Caledonia's the hypothenuse; Then, ergo, she'll match them, and match them always.


Crawford Logan

About this work

This is a song by Robert Burns. It was written in 1789 and is read here by Crawford Logan.

More about this song

Caledonia was sent to James Johnson on 23 January 1789 for inclusion in the Scots Musical Museum, however Johnson did not print the song.

The song is set to the air, ‘The Caledonian Hunt’s Delight’, a tune which first appeared in Niel Gow’s Strathspey Reels (1788).

The poem tells of Scottish superiority over the Romans (A flight of bold eagles), the Danes (The fell Harpy-Raven), and the Norwegians (The wild Scandinavian Boar).

Burns refers to battles won against them at Largs in 1263 and Loncartie in 990, playing to the Scottish myth of an unconquered people.

Of note in this work is the interpretation of the ‘The Cameleon-Savage’ (l.25) which has often been taken as a reference to the Picts covered in war-paint.

However, it is also possible that Burns was in fact alluding to Camelon, the legendary capital of Pictland, which is near modern-day Falkirk.

Ralph McLean

Themes for this song


Selected for 30 November

On Saint Andrew's Day when Scots rejoice in being Scottish, we present a poem about Caledonia. Wha's like us? Damn few an' they're a' deid, as the saying goes. Here, the 'competition', Romans, Scandinavians and the English ('the Anglian lion') are indeed all dead! The inclusive, progressive, 21st century Scotland being toasted today - if not quite "bold, independent, unconqur'd and free'- is more concerned with living allies than dead enemies. And its peaceful future is given more prominence than its warlike past.

Donny O'Rourke

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