Robert Bruce's March to Bannockburn
by Robert Burns, 1759-1796
The battle of Bannockburn took place in midsummer of the year 1314. It marked the conclusion of the wars between England and Scotland that had been going on intermittently since king Alexander of Scotland rode his horse off a cliff in 1286, leaving the nation leaderless. The conclusion was, that Scotland was to be an independent nation. Bannockburn was therefore one of the most consequential battles in British history. King Edward the Second of England, who lost the battle, was literally chased out of Scotland. The victor of the battle, Robert Bruce, became King Robert the First of independent Scotland, recognized as such by the Pope himself in 1323 (though the English did not make formal peace until five years later).
Burns wrote this poem in 1793, at age 34, when he was living in Dumfries. He had given up farming, got an undemanding government job, and was contributing verse and folk ditties to Scottish editors. Just three years later he was dead from heart failure, probably the result of excessive drinking on top of the after-effects of rheumatic fever. He has ever since been revered as Scotland's national poet, and the lines read here are considered the unofficial national anthem of Scotland.
"wha," "wham" = who, whom.
"hae" = have.
"sae" = so.
"Wallace" refers to William Wallace, who struggled unsuccessfully in the 1290s to do what Bruce at last accomplished in 1314. This is the character played by Mel Gibson in the 1995 movie Braveheart. To be fair to Wallace, his opponent, Edward the First, was a much more formidable foe than the silly, vain, and foppish Edward the Second.
• Play the reading
• Text of the poem
Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led,
Welcome to your gory bed,
Or to victory!
Now's the day, and now's the hour;
See the front o' battle lour,
See approach proud Edward's power —
Chains and slavery!
Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha can fill a coward's grave?
Wha sae base as be a slave? —
Let him turn, and flee!
Wha for Scotland's King and Law
Freedom's sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand or freeman fa',
Let him follow me!
By Oppression's woes and pains,
By your sons in servile chains,
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be free!
Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty's in every blow!
Let us do, or die!