The Jolly Beggars : Sodger Laddie


I once was a maid, tho' I cannot tell when, And still my delight is in proper young men; Some one of a troop of dragoons was my daddie, No wonder I'm fond of a sodger laddie, The first of my loves was a swaggering blade, To rattle the thundering drum was his trade; His leg was so tight, and his cheek was so ruddy, Transported I was with my sodger laddie. But the godly old chaplain left him in the lurch; The sword I forsook for the sake of the church: He ventur'd the soul, and I risked the body, 'Twas then I proved false to my sodger laddie. Full soon I grew sick of my sanctified sot, The regiment at large for a husband I got; From the gilded spontoon to the fife I was ready, I asked no more but a sodger laddie. But the peace it reduc'd me to beg in despair, Till I met old boy in a Cunningham fair, His rags regimental, they flutter'd so gaudy, My heart it rejoic'd at a sodger laddie. And now I have liv'd - I know not how long, And still I can join in a cup and a song; But whilst with both hands I can hold the glass steady, Here's to thee, my hero, my sodger laddie.

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Maureen Beattie

About this work

This is a song by Robert Burns. It was written in 1785 and is read here by Maureen Beattie.

More about this song

Burns wrote 'The Jolly Beggars', also commonly referred to as 'Love and Liberty - A Cantata' in 1785. The cantata of songs was never published in Robert Burns's lifetime.

It is believed that Burns was deterred from publishing the cantata by Rev. Dr. Hugh Blair (1718-1800) who declared that it was 'much too licentious'.

Indeed, 'The Jolly Beggars' rejects the values of conventional society and the authority of official culture in favour of vagrancy and the satisfaction of bodily appetites with alcohol and sex.

This type of literature would have been perceived as particularly inflammatory in the 1790s owing to the turbulent political climate caused by the French Revolution.

The 'Sodger Laddie' section of the cantata (also referred to as 'I Once was a Maid') is perhaps the most licentious of all, and this is the likely reason for its inclusion in the collection of bawdy songs The Merry Muses of Caledonia (1799).

This song tells the tale of a soldier's 'doxy'. An illegitimate child, she was born of illicit sex and her sexuality sustains her throughout her life. The doxy has always, then, remained on the outskirts of 'polite' society and possesses an alternative moral outlook.

This is most apparent when the doxy acknowledges, somewhat flippantly, that she has had an affair with a clergyman.

The final stanzas are representative of the message of 'The Jolly Beggars' as a whole. Despite misfortune, poverty and alienation from society, the doxy is still able to derive pleasure from her body: from alcohol, conviviality and love.

Pauline Mackay

Themes for this song

age love war

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