Volume V, song 471, page 485 - 'Lovely Polly Stewart' - Scanned from the 1853 edition of the 'Scots Musical Museum', James Johnson and Robert Burns (Edinburgh and London: W. Blackwood & Sons, 1853)
Verse 1 (to the tune of 'Ye're welcome Charlie Stewart'): 'O Lovely Polly Stewart, O charming Polly Stewart There's ne'er a flower tha blooms in May That's half so fair as thou art. The flower it blaws, it fades, it fa's, And art can ne'er renew it; But worth and truth eternal youth will gie to Polly Stewart.'
The 'Scots Musical Museum' is the most important of the numerous eighteenth- and nineteenth-century collections of Scottish song. When the engraver James Johnson started work on the second volume of his collection in 1787, he enlisted Robert Burns as contributor and editor. Burns enthusiastically collected songs from various sources, often expanding or revising them, whilst including much of his own work. The resulting combination of innovation and antiquarianism gives the work a feel of living tradition.
This song was written by Burns in 1791 to honour the daughter, Polly (1775-1847), of his friend William Stewart, who was the factor of the Closeburn Estate. Polly's, or more formally Mary, relationships were as erratic as Burns's with two long-term relationships out of wedlock and a forgotten marriage to her cousin! This song also goes by the name of 'The flower it blows, it fades, it fa's'. The tune was originally called 'Miss Stewart's Reel' but was then adapted to Jacobite verses, hence the name change. The tune is very similar to two further songs entitled 'Queensberry House' and 'The Confederacy'.