The Word on the Street
home | background | illustrations | distribution | highlights | search & browse | resources | contact us

Broadside ballad entitled 'The Birken Tree'


Verse 1 begins: 'O Lass gin ye would think it right, / To gang wi' me this very night, / And cuddle till the morning light, / By a' the lave unseen, O'. 'Lave' in this context is the word for 'guillemots', who are renowned for choosing and remaining with only one mate, and 'birken' is the Scots words for 'birch'. There are no publication details given, but this is one of two songs - printed by James Lindsay - on this sheet.

The woodcut at the top of the sheet, although clear and detailed, is still quite rough and ready. This illustration, although not directly related to the lyrics, is supposed to enhance the atmosphere of 'The Birken Tree'. The idea expressed in the woodcut of a hard-working, wholesome country lass is carried through into the text. The text deals with a common theme amongst broadsides, that of sneaking out when mother has forbade it. Here, however, a happy ending is included, with Jean and Johnny enjoying a happy life together.

Early ballads were dramatic or humorous narrative songs derived from folk culture that predated printing. Originally perpetuated by word of mouth, many ballads survive because they were recorded on broadsides. Musical notation was rarely printed, as tunes were usually established favourites. The term 'ballad' eventually applied more broadly to any kind of topical or popular verse.

previous pageprevious          
Probable period of publication: 1852-1859   shelfmark: L.C.Fol.178.A.2(058)
Broadside ballad entitled 'The Birken Tree'
View larger image

NLS home page   |   Digital gallery   |   Credits

National Library of Scotland © 2004

National Library of Scotland