Very many of the titles of early lowland tunes are clearly those of songs. Sadly, very few of these songs are sung today, but words to them can often be found in 18th century collections. In the first of an occasional series, we look at one of them.

The title of this familiar tune has a number of spellings; this one, and the words below, are taken from the song included in the chapbook ‘Sweet Hellen of the Dee’, printed in Falkirk by T. Johnston around 1800 [now in the Glasgow University Library). In the notes to this song in ‘Folk in Print’ Cowan and Paterson write: [note - ‘shearing’ here has nothing to do with sheep; it is the corn harvest that is being sheared]
‘Burns polished a version of the traditional song for the Scots Musical Museum. He received it from Robert Ainslie who was brought up near Duns in Berwickshire, a preferable reading to the ‘Duase’ of line 2 in the version given here. The original’s first verse was somewhat coarser,
“As I gaed up to Dunse
To warp a pickle yarn
Robin, silly body
He gat me wi’ bairn
“Thus was the Kirk-elder’s daughter disgraced. The ‘twa trumps and a whistle mentioned in the last two verses refer to sexual deceit”
[We leave readers to draw their own conclusions as to the full  meaning of this phrase]
Robin shure in hearse, I shure wi’ him;    sheared in harvest
Fient a neuk had I, yet I stack by him    not a lot had I, yet I  was loyalI

I gaed up to Duase, to warp a wab o’ plaiden,    Dunse?
At my father’s yeat wha’ met me but Robin?    gate
Was ne Robin bauld, be’t  I was a Cotter    considering that I was
To play sic a trick, & me the El’er’s douchter    Church Elder’s Daughter
Robin promis’d me a’ my winter’s victual
Fient a haet had he, but twa trumps and a whistle    (not a whit had he)
Now I’m Robin’s bride, free frae kirk-fo’k’s bussle
Robin’s a  my ain, wi’s twa trumps and a whistle

The version that Burns provided for the Scots Musical Museum is rather different in places. For instance in place of the ‘twa stumps and a whistle’, Burns has ‘three goose feathers and a whittle’. He also has the more probable [in the context of shearing] ‘Fient a heuk had I, yet I stack by him’, which changes the meaning of ‘stack’ too.
Several versions of the tune exist; this one is from James Oswald’s Caledonian Pocket Companion, book 5. It is remarkable (as Matt Seattle pointed out in his notes to the tune in his edition of the William Vickers manuscript) in that it establishes a direct link between this title and ‘Mock the Soldier’s Lady’ included in the Wm. Dixon manuscript [Oswald’s original is in G]. Dixon's setting is a useful source of solutions to the challenge of piping those strains of Oswald’s that go above the octave.

Rob Shear’d in Her’st from Oswald’s Caledonian Pocket Companion, Book V

The song version here is my adaptation of Oswald’s tune to accommodate the words of the chorus and the first verse.  I have set four lines to each verse, to match the music as given by Oswald and Dixon. You will probably need to make your own adjustments to suit the second verse

For completeness, here is the tune that Johnson used in the Scots Musical Museum. Since it’s not a pipe tune [though there are plenty of pipe settings of the basic material] I’ve left it as it is in the original. It is easier to sing Burns’ words to this tune, and each verse has only four bars, two lines as printed here.