“MacPherson's Lament”


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

Supplemental text

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,

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

Historical references

  • Nov 16, 1700 - Execution of James MacPherson

Cross references


  • Jimmy MacBeath, "MacPherson's Lament" (on Lomax43, LomaxCD1743)
  • Davie Stewart, "MacPherson's Rant" (on Voice08)


  1. Kennedy 348, "MacPherson's Lament" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Ord, pp. 443, "M'Pherson's Farewell" (1 text)
  3. MacSeegTrav 88, "Macpherson's Farewell" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. Flanders-Ancient3, pp. 163-169, "Mary Hamilton" (2 texts plus a fragment, with the "C" fragment containing parts of "MacPherson's Lament"; 3 tunes; the tune for the "MacPherson" portion is not given)
  5. Silber-FSWB, p. 205, "MacPherson's Farewell" (1 text)
  7. ST K348 (Full)
  8. Roud #2160
  9. BI, K348


Alternate titles: “MacPherson”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1803 (_Scots Musical Museum_ #114)
Found in: Britain(Scotland(Aber))