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MacPherson's Lament

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MacPherson's Lament

There are five versions here.
The first four are "popular" folk versions. These contain varous verses telling parts of the legend.
The final version is assumed to be the original by Robert Burns, "M'Pherson's Farewell".

Version one

(From CertaCito's Scottish Songs Page)

Fare thee weel, you dungeons dark and strong,
Fareweel , fareweel to thee.
Macpherson's rant will ne'er be lang,
On yonder gallers tree.

Chorus:

Sae wontonly, sae dauntonly,
O rantonly gaed he,
He played a tune an' he danced aroon,
Below the gallers tree.
2
Well the laird o' Grant, you highlan' Sa'nt
That first laid hands on me,
He plead the cause o' Peter Broon,
He watched Macpherson dee.

Chorus:

3
By a woman's treacherous hand
That I was condemned to dee,
High on a ledge of her window she stood,
And a blanket she threw over me.

Chorus:

4
Some come here noo tae see me hang
And some to buy my fiddle,
Before I'll pairt wi' thee,
I'll brak' her through the middle.

Chorus:

5
Come ye loose the bands from off my hands
Bring tae me noo my sword,
There's nae a man in a' Scotland
That'll brave him at his word.

Chorus:

5
Little did my mother think
When first she cradled me,
That I would turn a rovin' boy
And die upon the gallers tree.

Chorus:

6
The reprieve was comin' o'er the brig o' Banff,
To set Macpherson free,
They pu' t
he clock a quarter fast,
And they hanged him to the tree.

Chorus:

Version two

My father was a gentleman,
Of fame and honor high,
Oh mother, would you ne'er had borne
The son so doom'd to die.

Chorus:

Sae wontonly, sae dauntonly,
O rantonly gaed he,
He play'd a spring, and danc'd it roon'
Below the gallows-tree.
1
I've spent my life in rioting,
Debauch'd my health and strength,
I squander'd fast, as pillage came,
And fell to shame at length.

Chorus:

2
Fare thee weel, you dungeons dark and strong,
Fareweel , fareweel to thee.
Macpherson's rant will ne'er be lang,
On yonder gallers tree.

Chorus:

3
O what is breath but parting breath?
On many a bloody plain
I've dar'd his face, and in this place
I'll scorn him yet again.

Chorus:

4
But vengeance I never did wreak,
When pow'r was in my hand,
And you, dear friends, no vengeance seek,
It is my last command.

Chorus:

5
Forgive the man whose rage betray'd
MacPherson's worthless life;
When I am gone, be it not said,
My legacy was strife.

Chorus:

6
He took his fiddle in both his hands
And he broke it all a stone,
Saying there's nae a han' shall ply on thee
When I am dead and gone.

Chorus:

7
Now farewell light, thou sunshine bright,
And all beneath the sky!
May coward shame distain his name,
The wretch that dares not die!

Chorus:

8
O reprieve was coming o the Brig o' Dans
For ta set MacPherson free,
For they set the clock a quarter before
And they hanged him from a tree.

Chorus:

Version three

Farewell ye dungeons dark and strong
The wretch's destiny
MacPherson's life will no' be long
On yonder gallows tree

Sae rantingly, sae wantonly
Sae dauntingly gaed he
He played a tune and he danced aroon
Below the gallows tree

2
Oh what is death but parting breath
On mony's the blood plain
I've seen his face and in this place
I scorn him yet again

Sae rantingly, sae wantonly
Sae dauntingly gaed he
He played a tune and he danced aroon
Below the gallows tree

3
I've lived a life of grief and strife
I die by trechery
But it breaks my heart, I must depart
And not aveng'd be

4
Gae take these bonds from off my hands
And bring tae me my sword
And there's no' a man in all Scotland
But I'd brave him at his word

5
So farewell strife and sunshine bright
And all beneath the sky
May coward shame disdain the name
O' the wretch that dare not die

Sae rantingly, sae wantonly
Sae dauntingly gaed he
He played a tune and he danced aroon
Below the gallows tree

Version four

Farewell ye dungeons dark and strong
The wretch's destiny
MacPherson's time will nae be lang
On yonder gallows tree

Chorus:

Sae rantinlie an sae wantonlie
Sae dauntinlie gaed he
He played a tune an danced it roun
Below the gallows tree

2
Oh what is death but parting breath
On mony a bludy plain
I've daur'd his face and in his place
I scorn him yet again

Chorus:

3
Tak aff this bands from aff this hands
And bring to me my sword
There's nae a man in a' Scotland
But I'll brave him at a word

Chorus:

4
I've lived a life o sturt and strife
An I die by treacherie
It burns my heart I must depart
An not avenged be

Chorus:

5
He's taen his fiddle in his hand
An broke it o'er a stane
Said there's nene on earth shall play on thee
When I'm deed an gone

Chorus:

6
Farewell my friends an comrades a'
Farewell my wife an bairns
There's nae repentancein my breast
For the fiddles in my arms

Chorus:

7
The laird o' Grant that highland saunt
His might and majesty
He pled the cause o Peter Brown
An lets MacPherson dee

Chorus:

8
But the Braco Duff in rage enough
He first laid hands on me
And if that death would not prevent
Avenged would I be

Chorus:

9
As for my life I do not care
If justice would take it's place
And bring my fellow plunderers
Unto the same disgrace

Chorus:

10
Now farewell light thou sunshine bright
And all beneath the sky
May coward shame distain his name
The wretch that dare not die.

Chorus:

Version five - Robert Burns "M'Pherson's Farewell"

Farewell, ye dungeons dark and strong,
The wretch's destinie!
M'Pherson's time will not be long
On yonder gallows-tree.

Chorus:

Chorus.-Sae rantingly, sae wantonly,
Sae dauntingly gaed he;
He play'd a spring, and danc'd it round,
Below the gallows-tree.

O, what is death but parting breath?
On many a bloody plain
I've dared his face, and in this place
I scorn him yet again!

Chorus:

Untie these bands from off my hands,
And bring me to my sword;
And there's no a man in all Scotland
But I'll brave him at a word.

Chorus:

I've liv'd a life of sturt and strife;
I die by treacherie:
It burns my heart I must depart,
And not avenged be.

Chorus:

Now farewell light, thou sunshine bright,
And all beneath the sky!
May coward shame distain his name,
The wretch that dares not die!

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Comments:

Supposedly Composed by James MacPherson himself in Prison on the eve of his execution for cattle rustling.
The Robert Burns Country website lists it as "M'Pherson's Farewell" with a date 0f 1788 and the tune as "M'Pherson's Rant."

Born in 1675, the son of a gypsy woman and a Highland Laird, an Invereshie MacPherson. The child developed into a man of magnificent stature and intellect; possessing beauty, strength, and stature rarely equaled, and a fine fiddler. Rather than waste such natural gifts, he gave himself up to the life of a highwayman, being the leader of an unlawful band of gypsies who, well armed, traveled the North East of Scotland helping themselves to the property of the the landed gentry, living off their spoils and sharing them out with the less fortunate.

It is reported, on good authority (the Clan MacPherson), that Jamie and his band of freebooters never perpetrated acts of thievery or harm upon any of the poor or distressed. Jamie never grasped the concepts of modern corporate politics and hence thought it more fun to steal from the rich. Of course some of the Lords, Dukes, Earls and such that were directly connected thought they had it all backwards. Times being what they were, a few of the local gentry set about to hang Jamie and compatriots.

Before ultimately being brought to trial, MacPherson escaped several times from his captors. In Aberdeen, he was rescued from prison by his cousin, Donald and a gypsy named Peter Brown, aided by the populace. Shortly afterwards, he was captured at Keith Fair, where a woman threw a blanket out of a window trapping James, after a desperate resistance in the course of which one of Jamie's crew was killed by arch enemy Duff of Braco, who sort of owned the local county of Baniff. He was again rescued, this time by the Laird of Grant, but soon again recaptured and taken to Baniff prison by Duff and a very strong escort.

The four prisoners were brought to trial before Sheriff Nicholas Dunbar (Nicky was a close friend of Duff) at Baniff in November 1700, accused of: "Being ye mercats in yr ordinary manner of thieving and purse-cutting, or of the crimes of theft and masterful bangstree and oppression", and they were found "Fyllen, culpable, and convick" and sentenced "For sae muckle, as you, James MacPherson, are found guilty of being Egyptians and vagabonds and oppressors of his free lieges. Therefore, I adjudge and decern you to be taken to the cross of Banniff to be hanged by the neck to the death".

On the day of his execution in Banff the magistrates knew there was a reprieve coming from Aberdeen. The legend has it that Duff of Braco saw a lone rider coming from Turriff and correctly assumed that he carried a pardon for Jamie from the Lord of Grant. He then put the town clock forward by 15 minutes so James could be hanged at the specified time, before the pardon arrived.

And so, the last capital sentence executed in Scotland under Heritable Jurisdiction took place in mid November 1700.

It is reported that MacPherson played this tune on his fiddle up to the moment of execution. He then offered his fiddle to anyone in his clan who would play it at his wake. When no one came forward to take the fiddle, he broke it then threw it into the crowd saying, "No one else shall play Jamie MacPherson's fiddle".

The broken fiddle now lies in a folk museum near Newtonmore.

The Magistrates were punished for this and the town clock was kept 15 minutes behind the correct time for many years. Even to this day the town of Macduff has its west facing town clock covered so the people of Banff can't see the correct time Scotts Glossary:

sae = so
gaed = went
rant = play a lively tune
dauntonly = overcome
rantinly = merrily

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URL:  http://www.mcgillsociety.org/bard/lyrics/macphersons-lament.html
        Revision:  22 November 2009
Last modified:  22 November 2009