MacPherson tells how a woman betrayed him to the Laird o' Grant. He challenges all to a duel in defense of his honor. He breaks his fiddle, "the only friend I hae," rather than see it in bad hands. A rider is coming to reprieve him, so he is hanged early
MacPherson's Lament Complete text(s) *** A *** McPherson's Farewell (Robert Burns version) From James Johnson, "The Scots Musical Museum," Volume II, #114, p. 117. As found in the 1853 edition (punctuation is somewhat uncertain, given the state of the facsimile). Farewell, ye dungeons dark and strong, The wretch's destinie! McPherson's time will not be long, On yonder gallows tree. Sae rantingly, sae wantonly, Sae dauntingly gae'd he. He played a spring and danc'd it round Below the gallows tree. O what is death but a parting breath? On many a bloody plain I've dar'd his face, and in this place I scorn him yet again! Untie these bands from off my hands, And bring to me my sword; And there's no a man in all Scotland, But I'll brave him at a word. I've liv'd a life of sturt and strife, I die by treacherie: I burns my heart I must depart And not avenged be. Now farewell, light, though sunshine bright, And all beneath the sky. My coward shame distain his name, The wretch that dares not die! *** B *** From Peter Kennedy, "Folksongs of Britain and Ireland," #348, p. 776. Collected 1956 from Davie Stewart, Dundee, Angus, Scotland. Farewell, farewell, Macpherson you, The day is coming you mun dee And curs-ed be yon English laws That first condemneth thee Sae wanton-ly, sae daunton-ly Sae ranton-ly gaed he He played a tune an' he danced aroon Below the gallus tree It was by a lady's treacherous hand That I'm condemned to dee. It was in below her window-sill They threw a blanket over me. The laird o' Grant, that highlan' Sa'nt That first laid hands on me He pleyed the cause o' Peter Broon But he let Macpherson dee Untie those bands from off my hands And bring to me a sowrd There's not a man in a' Scotland But I'll brave him at his word There's some come here tae see me hang And some tae buy my fiddle But before that I do pairt wi' her I'll brak' her through the middle He took the diddle into baith his hands And he brak' it o'er a stane There nae body will play on her While I lay dead and gone Fare thee well, my ain dear highlan' hame Fare thee well, my wife an' my bairns There's nae fa'nting at the hairt While the fiddle was in my airms The reprieve was coming o'er the brig o' Banff When they stood on the Galla' Hill to see They put the clock three-quarters fast And hanged him tae the tree
Legends about MacPherson's death are many. The basic one has it that he played this tune before his death and offered the fiddle to anyone who could play it back for him. None could, so he broke the fiddle rather than leave it in incompetent hands. The (ruins of) the instrument are now said to be in the MacPherson clan museum in Inverness-shire.
That MacPherson was a freebooter seems almost certain -- but only spite could have hung him for his deeds; most of Scotland was the same way!
The earliest reported version of this piece seems to have been Burns's, but (given the variations), it seems certain that several traditional forms are older. - RBW