The Tree of Liberty


Heard ye o' the tree o' France, I watna what's the name o't; Around the tree the patriots dance, Weel Europe kens the fame o't. It stands where ance the Bastile stood, A prison built by kings, man, When Superstition's hellish brood Kept France in leading-strings, man. Upo' this tree there grows sic fruit, Its virtues a' can tell, man; It raises man aboon the brute, It maks him ken himsel, man. Gif ance the peasant taste a bit, He's greater than a lord, man, And wi' the beggar shares a mite 0' a' he can afford, man This fruit is worth a' Afric's wealth, To comfort us 'twas sent, man: To gie the sweetest blush o' health, And mak us a' content, man It clears the een, it cheers the heart, Maks high and low gude friends, man; And he wha acts the traitor's part, It to perdition sends, man. My blessings aye attend the chiel, Wha pitied Gallia's slaves, man, And staw a branch, spite o' the deil, Frae yont tho western waves, man. Fair Virtue watered it wi' care, And now she sees wi' pride, man, How weel it buds and blossoms there, Its branches spreading wide, man. But vicious folk aye hate to see The works o' Virtue thrive, man; The courtly vermin's banned the tree, And grat to see it thrive, man; King Loui' thought to cut it down, When it was unco sma', man For this the watchman cracked his crown, Cut aff his head and a', man. A wicked crew syne, on a time, Did tak a solemn aith, man, It ne'er should flourish to its prime, I wat they pledged their faith, man. Awa they gaed wi' mock parade Like beagles hunting game, man, But soon grew weary o' the trade, And wished they'd been at hame, man. For Freedom, standing by the tree, Her sons did loudly ca', man; She sang a sang o' liberty, Which pleased them ane and a', man By her inspired, the new-born race Soon drew the avenging steel, man; The hirelings ran-her foes gied chase, And banged the despot weel, man Let Britain boast her hardy oak, Her poplar and her pine, man, Auld Britain ance could crack her joke, And o'er her neighbours shine, man But seek the forest round and round, And soon 'twill be agreed, man, That sic a tree can not be found 'Twixt London and the Tweed, man. Without this tree, alake this life Is but a vale o' wo, man; A scene o' sorrow mixed wi' strife, Nae real joys we know, man. We labour soon, we labour late, To feed the titled knave, man; And a' the comfort we're to get, Is that ayont the grave, man. Wi' plenty o' sic trees, I trow, The warld would live in peace, man; The sword would help to mak a plough, The din o' war wad cease, man. Like brethren in a common cause, We'd on each other smile, man; And equal rights and equal laws Wad gladden every isle, man. Wae worth the loon wha wadna eat Sic halesome dainty cheer, man; I'd gie my shoon frae aff my feet, To taste sic fruit, I swear, man. Syne let us pray, auld England may Sure plant this far-famed tree, man; And blithe we'll sing, and hail the day That gave us liberty, man.

Listen

Robbie Coltrane

About this work

This is a poem by Robert Burns. It is read here by Robbie Coltrane.

More about this poem

More than any other poem associated with Burns The Tree of Liberty promotes arguments, and the majority of these surround whether or not Burns wrote it at all.

A manuscript of it was given to Dr Robert Chambers in 1838 by Duncan of Mosefield, and Chamber's included it in his Life and Works of Robert Burns (1897).

Chambers believed that much of Burns more radical political poetry had been concealed to protect Burns name, but had faith that this poem was one which had slipped through the net; 'There I one piece which was probably written or at least freely touched up by Burns and which, but for the ultra-Jacobinical fashion in which it introduces the name of the unfortunate Louis XVI, might have been read by the poet's contemporaries without any pain, as expressing only the feelings of a man who was too sanguine about the success of the popular cause of France'.

It is true that if Burns had written this it would have cemented the image of him a proto-revolutionary and radical, which may explain the clamour for some to claim that Burns was the author. However to this day no-one has been able to prove this is the work of Robert Burns.

Alistair Braidwood

Themes for this poem

revolution brotherhood equality

Selected for 14 July

Our selection for Bastille Day is a rousing poem in praise of the ideals that inspired the revolutionaries in France. In his political outlook Burns was not merely radical but genuinely revolutionary. He drew lifelong hope and inspiration from the egalitarian, fraternal and libertarian changes brought about in Paris before the 'Terror' that undermined and contradicted those early aspirations. Doubts may persist as to Burns's authorship of this incendiary poetic tract but the 'common cause' against the 'titled knave' was a constant theme not just in his writings but in his life and it certainly sounds like the Bard.

Donny O'Rourke

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