“Bannockburn” poem by Robert Burns (1759-1796)
Written by: Stewart Borland
Published: 23rd September 2014, last updated: 20th May 2021
2014 is the 700th year of the battle of Bannockburn where Robert the Bruce fought Edward II and won the first war of independence for Scotland. It’s no coincidence that this was the year chosen for the referendum on Scottish independence, as political feeling was stirred by the anniversary celebrations around the country marking this seminal event.
Robert the Bruce gives a battle cry in the poem, and calls upon his soldiers to think of their ‘sons in servile chains’. Into his mouth Robert Burns puts the emotive words ‘we will drain our dearest veins, but they shall be free’. Unfortunately for the Independence vote, such emotive sentiment didn’t quite work this time.
Here is the full poem for you to enjoy:
At Bannockburn the English lay,–
The Scots they were na far away,
But waited for the break o’ day
That glinted in the east.
But soon the sun broke through the heath
And lighted up that field of death,
When Bruce, wi’ saul-inspiring breath,
His heralds thus addressed:–
“Scots, wha hae wi’ Wallace bled–
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led–
Welcome to your gory bed.
Or to victorie!
“Now’s the day, and now’s the hour;
See the front o’ battle lower;
See approach proud Edward’s power–
Chains and slaverie!
“Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha can fill a coward’s grave?
Wha sae base as be a slave?
Let him turn and flee!
“Wha for Scotland’s king and law
Freedom’s sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand or freeman fa’–
Let him follow me!
“By Oppression’s woes and pains!
By your sons in servile chains!
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be free!
“Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty’s in every blow!
Let us do or die!”
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