The Floo’ers o’ the Forest

The Battle of Flodden, Flodden Field, or occasionally Branxton, (Brainston Moor[4]) was a battle fought on 9 September 1513 during the War of the League of Cambrai between the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland, resulting in an English victory. The battle was fought near Branxton in the county of Northumberland in northern England, between an invading Scots army under King James IV and an English army commanded by the Earl of Surrey.[5] In terms of troop numbers, it was the largest battle fought between the two kingdoms. – Wikipedia

If you are of Scot’s descent, as am I, you know about this battle (among others) and the song that reminds us of the misery of those left behind:

I’ve heard the lilting, at the yowe-milking,
Lasses a-lilting before dawn o’ day;
But now they are moaning on ilka green loaning;
“The Flowers of the Forest are a’ wede away”.

As buchts, in the morning, nae blythe lads are scorning;
The lasses are lonely and dowie and wae.
Nae daffin’, nae gabbin’, but sighing and sobbing,
Ilk ane lifts her leglen, and hies her away.
In hairst, at the shearing, nae youths now are jeering,
The Bandsters are lyart, and runkled and grey.
At fair or at preaching, nae wooing, nae fleeching,
The Flowers of the Forest are a’ wede away.

At e’en, in the gloaming, nae swankies are roaming,
‘Bout stacks wi’ the lasses at bogle to play.
But ilk ane sits drearie, lamenting her dearie,
The Flowers of the Forest are a’ wede away.

Dule and wae for the order sent our lads to the Border;
The English, for ance, by guile wan the day:
The Flowers of the Forest, that foucht aye the foremost,
The prime o’ our land are cauld in the clay.

We’ll hae nae mair lilting, at the yowe-milking,
Women and bairns are dowie and wae.
Sighing and moaning, on ilka green loaning,
The Flowers of the forest are all wede away.

Meaning of Scots words:
Buchts=cattle pens
Swankies=young lads
Dule=mourning clothes

The Scots, I think, were treated like American Indians have been treated: enslaved, language banned, viewed as substandard. You can find the details in many places rather than my trying to capture Scotland’s history in this post. Suffice it to say, I subscribe to my family’s motto: Forget Not. And I don’t.

The U.K., in my unsolicited opinion, doomed the remains of the empire with BREXIT. Now let’s finish the job and move forward with another independence referendum for Scotland and, should that succeed, consider setting Wales free and allowing Ireland to be one, unified country…if the residents there decide that’s what they want.

I follow the news about this and keep hoping for victory.  Or, as we might say in Scots Gaelic: Tha mi a ’feitheamh ri Alba an-asgaidh.


Forget Not

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing


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The Flooers of the Forest

My ancestors play this Scot’s lament for me on Memorial Day, and though it’s forever a reminder of the country’s loss to the English at the battle of Flodden, in September 1513, I cannot help thinking that after every battle in every war the flower of the nation’s youth will not be coming home.

Here’s the song as I hear it. I’ve added some translations at the end.

I’ve heard the liltin at oor yowe-milkin,
Lassies a-liltin before break o day
Now there’s a moanin on ilka green loanin –
The Flooers o the Forest are a’ wede awa

At buchts, in the mornin, nae blythe lads are scornin,
Lassies are lanely and dowie and wae
Nae daffin, nae gabbin, but sighin and sabbin,
The Flooers o the Forest are a’ wede awa

In hairst at the shearin, nae youths now are jeerin,
Bandsters are lyart and runkled and gray
At fair or at preachin, nae wooin, nae fleechin –
The Flooers of the Forest are a’ wede awa

At e’en at the gloamin, nae swankies are roamin
‘Bout stacks wi the lassies at bogle tae play
But ilk ane sits dreary, lamentin her deary –
The Flooers of the Forest are a’ wede awa

Dule and wae for the order, sent oor lads to the Border
The English, for aince, by guile wan the day
The Flooers of the Forest, that focht aye the foremost
The prime o our land, lie cauld in the clay

We hear nae mair liltin at oor yowe-milkin
Women and bairnies are heartless and wae
Sighin and moanin on ilka green loanin –
The Flooers of the Forest are a’ wede awa

buchts=cattle pens
swankies=young lads
dule=mourning clothes



Dona Nobis Pacem

One night in 1967, I picked up a white candle on the campus of Syracuse University and joined a long line of students that moved like a ribbon of continuous light across the dark campus. We did not use the words Dona nobis Pacem (Grant us Peace) as many bloggers are saying across the world on this November 4th day in which we blog for peace. We were, of course, protesting the Vietnam War in those days when many of us sang  “Where have all the flowers gone.”

Since that night of candles and songs, at least 10,960,000 have been killed by wars. “Gone to graveyards every one,” the old Pete Seeger folk song tells us. “When will they ever learn?”

My Scots ancestors once sang—and often still sing—an old song called “The Flowers of the Forest,” a lament about the grief of the women and children after James IV and his 10,000 men died at the Battle of Flodden Field in northern England in 1513.  I wonder if Pete Seeger ever heard the words: “The Flooers o’ the Forest, that fought aye the foremost, The pride o’ oor land lie cauld in the clay.”

Perhaps There’s Hope

Since 1967, we have had many occasions to ask “When will they ever learn?”  Even in these days of terrorists and unstable governments and territorial disputes that seem to have no solutions, there may be hope. In his October 2011 article in Foreign Policy “Think Again: War,”  Joshua S. Goldstein writes that even though 60% of Americans responding to a recent survey thought a third world war was likely, fewer people per year have been dying in wars in years between 2000 and 2011 than in the 1950s through the 1990s.

One reason for the decline is the smaller scale and scope of the conflicts after World War II, Korea and Vietnam. According to Goldstein, “Armed conflict has declined in large part because armed conflict has fundamentally changed. Wars between big national armies all but disappeared along with the Cold War, taking with them the most horrific kinds of mass destruction. Today’s asymmetrical guerrilla wars may be intractable and nasty, but they will never produce anything like the siege of Leningrad.”

Is there reason for hope in such an analysis? Goldstein suggests that the world seems more violent now than it ever did in part because information is more accessible and pervasive. Whether it’s via 24-hour news channels, online news sources, or social networks like Twitter and Facebook, we hear one way or the other about every car bomb, every attack and every atrocity. On such days, I’m still tempted to ask, “When will they ever learn?”

Higher Standards

We still have work to do, and this isn’t it. – Wikipedia Photo

The world, writes Goldstein, also seems more violent because society’s standards have risen. A day’s worth of fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan brought news of battle deaths that were a tiny fraction of the numbers killed per day in World War II. Yet our anger about every five soldiers or civilians killed in recent these conflicts was, it always seemed, much higher than for every 5,000 killed in the 1940s.

We’re less tolerant of violence now. The in-your-face nature of TV war reporting that began during the Vietnam War is showing us in ways we cannot accept where the flowers are going and how they got there. The images out of Iraq showed us more of what we didn’t want to see.

Perhaps we are learning. Perhaps our flowers of the forest will remain in the forest and the day will come when laments and folk songs about war and grief can be left on dusty shelves and slowly forgotten. Until then, we still say Dona Nobis Pacem and hope people are listening.