The Whistle


I sing of a Whistle, a Whistle of worth, I sing of a Whistle, the pride of the North. Was brought to the court of our good Scottish King, And long with this Whistle all Scotland shall ring. Old Loda, still rueing the arm of Fingal, The god of the bottle sends down from his hall 'This Whistle's your challenge, to Scotland get o'er, And drink them to hell, Sir! or ne'er see me more!' Old poets have sung, and old chronicles tell, What champions ventur'd, what champions fell; The son of great Loda was conqueror still, And blew on the Whistle their requiem shrill. Till Robert, the lord of the Cairn and the Scaur, Unmatch'd at the bottle, unconquer'd in war, He drank his poor god-ship as deep as the sea, No tide of the Baltic e'er drunker than he. Thus Robert, victorious, the trophy has gained, Which now in his house has for ages remained; Till three noble chieftains, and all of his blood, The jovial contest again have renewed. Three joyous good fellows, with hearts clear of flaw; Craigdarroch, so famous for wit, worth, and law; And trusty Glenriddel, so skilled in old coins; And gallant Sir Robert, deep-read in old wines. Craigdarroch began, with a tongue smooth as oil, Desiring Glenriddel to yield up the spoil; Or else he would muster the heads of the clan, And once more, in claret, try which was the man. 'By the gods of the ancients!' Glenriddel replies, 'Before I surrender so glorious a prize, I'll conjure the ghost of the great Rorie More, And bumper his horn with him twenty times o'er.' Sir Robert, a soldier, no speech would pretend, But he ne'er turn'd his back on his foe - or his friend, Said, toss down the Whistle, the prize of the field," And knee-deep in claret, he'd die ere he'd yield. To the board of Glenriddel our heroes repair, So noted for drowning of sorrow and care; But for wine and for welcome not more known to fame, Than the sense, wit, and taste of a sweet lovely dame. A bard was selected to witness the fray, And tell future ages the feats of the day; A Bard who detested all sadness and spleen, And wish'd that Parnassus a vineyard had been. The dinner being over, the claret they ply, And every new cork is a new spring of joy; In the bands of old friendship and kindred so set, And the bands grew the tighter the more they were wet. Gay Pleasure ran riot as bumpers ran o'er; Bright Phoebus ne'er witness'd so joyous a corps, And vowed that to leave them he was quite forlorn, Till Cynthia hinted he'd see them next morn. Six bottles a-piece had well wore out the night, When gallant Sir Robert, to finish the fight, Turn'd o'er in one bumper a bottle of red, And swore 'twas the way that their ancestor did. Then worthy Glenriddel, so cautious and sage, No longer the warfare, ungodly, would wage; A high ruling elder to wallow in wine! He left the foul business to folks less divine. The gallant Sir Robert fought hard to the end; But who can with Fate and Quart Bumpers contend? Though Fate said, a hero should perish in light; So uprose bright Phoebus - and down fell the knight. Next uprose our Bard, like a prophet in drink: 'Craigdarroch, thou'lt soar when creation shall sink! But if thou would flourish immortal in rhyme, Come - one bottle more - and have at the sublime! Thy line, that have struggled for freedom with Bruce, Shall heroes and patriots ever produce: So thine be the laurel, and mine be the bay; The field thou hast won, by yon bright god of day!'

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Dougray Scott

About this work

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

Themes for this song

nationalism war royalty

Selected for 24 March

The 24th of March, 1603 was probably the most important day in the history of Scottish literature and culture. On that day, James VI of Scotland became James I of England and monarch of a new United Kingdom. Burns deplored the ramifications of the court’s move south, for with it went power, influence and cultural confidence. No longer would Scots be the language of judges, ministers, schoolteachers, professors, journalists and poets. No more would Scotland seem independent of its 'Auld Enemy'. Under Scotland's 'last' king it would be Shakespeare, Donne and Jonson who flourished. Much of Robert Burns's self-ascribed Bardic 'mission' would consist in keeping an idea and ideal of that former Scotland alive through 'a sang at least'. The subsequent end of the Stuart monarchy, however, seems to have angered Burns even more than its ascension to the British throne. And the political union of 1707 riled him more than the Union of the Crowns. In any case, remembering the poet's ability to be both Jacobin and Jacobite, revolutionary and royalist, one should be wary of recruiting him posthumously to any political camp. Here Burns brings his patriotic nostalgia to bear on the politics of his own time. And his polemic is in English...

Donny O'Rourke

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