New poetry translation: Child 163, The Battle of Harlaw.
The Lallans dialect being more strongly influenced by Norse, and less by the detestable Norman French that infests the rest of the Isles, this was a very easy translation – all those lovely cognates! Finding pictures was, in this case, much more difficult than finding words; I apologise for the occasional anachronistic musket – it’s really very hard to avoid the Jacobite risings if you want pictures of Highlanders launching their death-or-glory charge.
As usual for a ballad, there are many versions of the song; I have stuck closely to the words usually sung in modern performances, though omitting the refrain that imitates the sound of a drum, “wi’ a derrum-a-dru, an’ a dree, an’ a drum; wi’ a derrum-a-dru-drum-drey!”. This leaves out “Sir James the Rose” and “John the Graeme”, who seem to me to have been imported from some other song; a Graham has no business in this very northern affair anyway. Let them stick to mixing it up with riding-names from south of the Border. I also drop (following what seems to be the modern tradition) the episode of Forbes sending a servant to fetch his coat of mail, and launching his decisive attack only after the two hours it takes to get his armour delivered to the battlefield. This seems to be some sort of medieval politics – an oblique criticism of how late that attack was delivered? At any rate it seems incredible that anyone who owned a coat of mail, would then proceed not to bring it with him to fight “fifty thousand” savage Hielantmen. Finally, Child collects many different verses on the general theme of “the Highlander attack was very powerful”, which probably would not all have been sung in the same performance, and here are collapsed into the one “three acres’ breidth and mair”. Incidentally, since an acre is a chain by a furlong, three acres’ breadth would be about 200 feet, which is probably a bit longer than the traditional Norwegian unit “a stone’s throw”, but not a completely implausible match since some sources give the ‘steinkast’ as up to 75 meters. In any case it rhymes.
Pace the Forbes’s propaganda, McDonald in fact had at most ten thousand men, and survived the battle though he did give up his claim to the Earldom of Ross. The title “Lord Forbes” is technically anachronistic – though he was presumably chief of the eponymous clan, Alexander Forbes was not created 1st Lord Forbes until at least 1436, 25 years after the battle.
Og kom du hit fra høyland, mann? Kom du den hele vei?
Så du McDonald og hans menn, da de kom inn fra Skye?
Ja, jeg kom gjennom Garioch-land og inn ved Netherha’,
og jeg så McDonald og hans menn, marsjerte mot Harlaw.
Og kom du nær, og nærme nok, at du et tall kan gi?
Kom si meg så, John høylandsmann, hva kan det tallet bli?
Ja jeg kom nær, og nærme nok, at manntallet jeg så:
Der var femti tusen høylandsmenn, marsjerte mot Harlaw!
Og jeg kom inn, og lengre inn, og ned og ved Harlaw,
falt mange menn på hver en kant; slik kamp man aldri så!
Høylenderne, med lange sverd, de angrep hardt og hvast,
de drev tilbake våre menn i mer enn et steinkast.
Herr Forbes til sin bror han sa, nu broder, ser du ei?
De rykker frem på hver en kant; snart må vi i vei.
Nei, nei, nei, min broder kjær, slik skam kan aldri bli.
Grip sverdet fast i høyre hand; vi står vårt mannskap bi.
Det første slag, herr Forbes gir, sverd inn en alen går;
det andre slag, fra Forbes’ hand, McDonalds banesår.
Slikt kav det ble, blant høylandsmenn, som lederen fallen så
de bar ham bort, og gravla ham, en lang mil fra Harlaw!
Det var en mandags morgen at kampens hete brant;
lørdag uti kveldingen kunne du knapt si hvem som vant.
Om noen skulle spørre deg, etter de som er borte nå,
bare si rett fram, og bent rett fram: De sover ved Harlaw.
And for completeness, the Lallans text:
An’ cam ye frae the Hielans, man? An’ cam ye all the way?
Saw ye McDonald an’ his men, as they cam in frae Skye?
Aye, I cam in frae the Garioch lands, an’ doon by Netherha’;
an’ I saw McDonald an’ his men, a-marching tae Harlaw.
An’ cam ye near, an’ near enough? Did ye their number see?
Come tell tae me, John Hielandman, what mecht their numbers be?
Aye, I wis near, an’ near enough, an’ I their number saw:
There was fifty thousand Hielantmen, a-marching on Harlaw!
As I came in, an’ further in, an’ doon an’ by Harlaw,
they fell fu’ close on ilka side; sic strokes ye never saw!
The Hielant men, wi’ their lang swords, laid into us fu’ sair;
an’ they drove backwards all oor men, three acres’ breidth an’ mair!
Lord Forbes tae his brother did say, “Noo brother, dinna ye see?
They’ll drive us back on ilka side; we’ll be forced tae flee!”
“Oh na na na, ma brother dear; this thing it maunna be:
Ye’ll tak’ yer guid sword in yer haund, and ye’ll gang in wi’ me!”
The first blow that Lord Forbes struck, the sword ran in an ell;
the second blow that Forbes struck, the great McDonald fell.
Sic a cry frae amang the Hielant men, when they seed their leader fa’;
they carried him, an’ buried him, a lang mile frae Harlaw.
On Monday in the morning, the battle was begun;
by Saturday, at gloaming-time, ye’d scarce ken wha had won.
If ony man should speer o’ thee, for them that’s gane awa’:
just tell ’em plain, and unco plain: They’re sleepin’ at Harlaw.