Volume V, song 472, page 486 - 'The Highland balou' -...
Volume V, song 472, page 486 - 'The Highland balou' - Scanned from the 1853 edition of the 'Scots Musical Museum', James Johnson and Robert Burns (Edinburgh and London: W. Blackwood & Sons, 1853)
Verse 1: 'Hee balou, my sweet wee Donald, Picture o' the great Clanronald; Brawlie kens our wanton Chief Wha got my young Highland thief.' Balou' in Scots means 'to hush' whilst 'brawlie' in this context is 'well'.
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 is a rough translation by Burns of a Highland lullaby, entitled 'Cagaran Gaolach'. It is thought to have been picked up by Burns whilst he was touring the Highlands. Tradition has it that it was given to him by a 'Highland Lady' and Burns's manuscript of the words was still in the possession of the 'Museum's' editor in the early nineteenth century. The song is supposed to have been sung by a poor lady to her son and expresses the hope that he will grow up strong so he can steal cattle. This was a common practice in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and was one way for poorer members of society to improve their family's fortunes.