O can ye labour lea

O, can ye labour lea, young man, O, can ye labour lea? Gae back the gate ye came again Ye's never scorn me! I fee'd a man at Martinmas Wi' airle-pennies three; But a' the faut I had to him He couldna labour lea. O, clappin's guid in Febarwar, An' kissin's sweet in May; But what signifies a young man's love, An't dinna last for ay? O, kissin is the key o' love An' clappin is the lock; An' makin of's the best thing That e'er a young thing got! O, can ye labour lea, young man, O, can ye labour lea? Gae back the gate ye came again Ye's never scorn me!


Vivien Heilbron

About this work

This is a song by Robert Burns. It was written in 1792 and is read here by Vivien Heilbron.

More about this song

The song 'Can Ye Labor Lea' is Burns's polite adaptation of an old bawdy version published in The Merry Muses of Caledonia and may have been written as early as 1787.

In a letter to James Dalrymple in February of that year, Burns refers to the last stanza of his version as 'An Auld Sang o' my Mither's'.

The song's ambiguous refrain, 'O can ye labor lea', queries man's constancy and ability to 'labor' in the practical sense as well as the amorous sense of the word.

Pauline Mackay

Themes for this song

love seduction

Selected for 26 February

When someone from Scotland 'claps' a dog, the pet is not being applauded! In Scots, to 'clap', is to caress. And this is the right month for it. And the right year, what with an extra day tacked on to February for such gestures of affection. 'O clappin's guid in Febarwar', affirms today's poem in which a farm mistress turns away a prospective employee, more for deficiencies in love away from the plough, than for any lack of aptitude behind it.

Donny O'Rourke

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