This Scottish folk song is found in two forms, both of which are usually attributed to the poet Robert Burns. In addition to being sung by countless folk ensembles, it has been formally set by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten, and the melody—which can be equally interpreted as either hopeful or melancholy—was used by Michael Tippett as the theme for the haunting second movement of his First Piano Sonata.

This first variation of the text is found in a letter from Burns to his friend Thompson in September 1794. He claims that he noted down the text of the song while visiting a Reverend Clunie, while his friend Stephen Clarke, also visiting, transcribed the melody.

Ca' the yowes to the knowes,
Ca' them whaur the heather grows,
Ca' them whaur the burnie rows,
My bonnie dearie.

Hark the mavis' ev'nin' sang,
Soundin' Cluden's woods amang,
Then a-fauldin' let us gang,
My bonnie dearie.

We'll gae down by Cluden's side,
Thro' the hazels spreading wide,
O'er the waves that sweetly glide,
To the moon sae clearly.

Yonder Cluden's silent tow'rs,
Where at moonshine's midnight hours
O'er the dewy bendin' flow'rs
Fairies dance sae cheerie.

{Ghaist nor bogle shalt thou fear,
Thour't to Love and Heav'n sae dear,
Naught of ill shall come thee near,
My bonnie dearie.}

Fair and lovely as thou art,
Thou hast stown my very heart.
I can die but canna part,
My bonnie dearie.

(The verse in braces is only cited by some sources.)

Pronunciation notes are given in book V of the Oxford University Press series of 'Clarendon Song Books', in which this song appears. To Scots, these may seem trivial, but essential to a singer who wishes it to sound as intended. The body of these:

  • 'ow' as in how (yowes, knowes, grows, rows, stown)
  • 'ow' as in moon (down)
  • 'ou' as in moon (soundin') — also flowers, towr's, hours, if preferred.
  • 'to' as 'ti' in tip
  • 'o'er' as our
  • 'die' as dee

However, another version of the text is found in a collection entitled 'The Scots Musical Museum' published by a Mr. James Johnson from 1787-1803. These words were submitted by one William Stenhouse, and reputed to have been altered slightly by Burns.

Ca' the yowes to the knowes,
Ca' them whaur the heather grows,
Ca' them whaur the burnie rows,
My bonnie dearie.

As I gaed down the water-side,
There I met a shepherd lad,
He row'd me sweetly in his plaid,
An' he ca'd me his dearie.

Will ye gang down the water-side
And see the waves sae sweetly glide
Beneath the hazels spreading wide,
The moon it shines fu' clearly.

I was bred up at nae sic school,
My shepherd-lad, to play the fool,
A' the day tae sit in dool
Wi' naebody to hear me.

Ye sall get rings and ribbons meet
Cauf-leather shoon upon your feet,
And in my bosom lie and sleep,
And ye sall be my dearie.

Yon yowes and lammies on the plain,
Wi' a' the gear my dad did hain,
I'se gie thee, if thou'lt be mine ain,
My bonnie dearie.

Come weel, come wae, whate'er betide,
Gin ye'll prove true, I'se be your bride,
And ye sall row me in your plaid,
My winsome dearie.

The Clarendon Song Books -- V (Oxford University Press)

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