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Look back on the life of Robert Tannahill on Poet's Day

Today is Poet's Day, showcasing how poetry can inspire creativity and capture the imagination.

To mark the day, we look back on the life and work of Robert Tannahill - who is affectionately known as "Paisley's Son".

Look back on the life of Robert Tannahill on Poet's Day

Tannahill was born on 3rd June, 1774 at 32 Castle Street, Paisley, and was one of 290 weaver poets from the town.

Considered one of Scotland’s most famous poets, Tannahill would leave a legacy of over a hundred songs and poems penned during his lifetime.

Some of his most illustrious poems include “Jessie the Flower of Dunblane” and “The Braes of Gleniffer”, while the famous Scottish folk song "Will You Go Lassie Go" ("Wild Mountain Thyme") is a variant of Tannahill's "The Braes of Balquhidder”.

Tannahill is noted for starting the Paisley Literacy and Convivial Association in 1803 with his friends and also became the first Secretary of the Paisley Burns Club. Formed in 1805, it claims to be the oldest formally constituted Burns Club in the world.

Sadly in 1810, after a collection of his work was turned down by publishers in Greenock and Edinburgh, he fell into a despondency. He would later burn all his manuscripts and take his own life. 

The life and work of the poet was celebrated in Kilbarchan teenager Morgan Spence's fantastic stop-motion animation about nearby Paisley, which he created using Lego bricks.

The three-minute film is part of Paisley's bid to be UK City of Culture 2021 and aims to use the town’s unique heritage and cultural story to transform its future. 

You can look back on Paisley’s rich past with two of Robert Tannahill’s famous poems below.

Jessie the flower of Dunblane

The sun has gane down o’er the lofty Ben Lomond,

And left the red clouds to preside o’er the scene,

While lanely I stray in the calm simmer gloamin’

To muse on sweet Jessie, the flooer o’ Dunblane

 

How sweet is the brier, wi’ its saft faulding blossom,

And sweet is the birk, wi’ its mantle o’ green;

Yet sweeter and fairer, and dear to this bosom,

Is lovely young Jessie, the flower o’ Dunblane.

Is lovely young Jessie, is lovely young Jessie,

Is lovely young Jessie, the flower o’ Dunblane

 

She’s modest as ony, and blythe as she’s bonny

For guileless simplicity marks her its ain;

And far be the villain, divested o’ feeling,

Wha’d blight, in its bloom, the sweet flooer o’ Dunblane

 

Sing on, thou sweet mavis, thy hymn to the evenin’,

Thou’rt dear to the echoes of Calderwood glen;

Sae dear to this bosom, sae artless and winning,

Is charming young Jessie, the flower o’ Dunblane.

How lost were my days till I met wi’ my Jessie,

The sports o’ the city seemed foolish and vain;

I ne’er saw a nymph I would ca’ my dear lassie,

Till charm’d wi’ sweet Jessie, the flower o’ Dunblane

 

Though mine were the station o’ loftiest grandeur,

Amidst its profusion I’d languish in pain;

And reckon as naething the height o’ its splendour,

If wanting sweet Jessie, the flooer o’ Dunblane.

Is lovely young Jessie, the flower o’ Dunblane.

Is lovely young Jessie, is lovely young Jessie,

Is lovely young Jessie, the flower o’ Dunblane

 

The Braes o' Gleniffer

Keen blaws the win' o'er the braes o' Gleniffer

The auld castle's turrets are covered wi' snaw

How changed frae the time when I met wi' my lover

Amang the brume bushes by Stanley green shaw

 

The wild flowers o' simmer were spread a' sae bonnie

The Mavis sang sweet frae the green birkin tree

But far to the camp they ha'e marched my dear Johnnie

And now it is winter wi' nature and me

 

Then ilk thing aroun' us was blythsome and cheery

Then ilk thing aroun' us was bonnie and braw

Now naething is heard but the win' whistlin' dreary

And naething is seen by the wide spreadin' snaw

 

The trees are a' bare, and the birds mute and dowie

They shake the cauld drift frae their wings as they flee

And chirp out their plaints, seeming wae for my Johnnie

'Tis winter wi' them and 'tis winter wi' me

 

Yon caul sleety could skiffs alang the bleak mountain

And shakes the dark firs on the stey rocky brae

While doun the deep glen bawls the snaw-flooded fountain

That murmur'd sae sweet to my laddie an' me

 

'Tis no' its loud roar, on the wintry win' swellin'

'Tis no' the caul' blast brings the tear to my e'e

For, oh, gin I saw my bonnie Scots callan

The dark days o' winter war simmer tae me

Read more on Tannahill’s poetry and songs on the Robert Tannahill Federation’s website here.