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Robert Sempill of Beltrees (1590?-1660?)

Extracts of Robert Sempill’s long poem about Habbie have been quoted or referred to in many previous editions of Common Stock:-

Vol 3 No I Who Paid the Pipers - Iain MacInnes:

Vol 2 No 1 Coal Candle and number 1 Duck Row - Gordon Mooney: Vol 7 No 2 Robert Burns, Collector of Pipe Tunes - Jim Gilchrist: Vol 17 No 1 Hats off to Habbie Simson - Jim Gilchrist:

Vol 17 No 2 (this issue) Now wha shall play The Day it Dawis - Pete Stewart This seems a suitable moment to quote the work in full.

Son of a courtier and theologian, Sempill went to Glasgow University and fought on behalf of Charles 1 in the English civil war. Here he recalls a local piper in a form of poetry which soon became known as ‘standard Habbie, and practically took over Scottish vernacular verse for the next 100 years.

Kilbarchan now may say alas!

For she hath lost her game and grace,

Both Trixie, and The Maiden Trace,                                                                (tunes) But what remead?                                     (help)

For no man can supply his place: Hab Simson’s dead.

Now who shall play The Day it Dawis, Or Hunt’s Up, when the cock he craws? Or who can for our kirk-town cause

Stand us in stead?

On bagpipes now nobody blaws Sen Habbie’s dead.

Or wha will cause our shearers shear?

Wha will bend up the brags of weir                  (play vaunting war tunes) Bring in the bells, or good play-meir      (celebrate New Year)

In time of need?

Hab Simson cou’d, whai needs you speir?                                                                (ask) But now he’s dead.

So kindly to his neighbours neast                                                                      (nearest) At Beltan and St. Barchan’s feast)

He blew, and then held up his breast

As he were weid:                                                                                                             (feverish) But now we need not him arrest                      (stop)

For Habbie’s dead.


At fairs he play’d before the spear-men

All’gaily graithed in their gear men:                                   (kitted out) Steel bonnets, jacks, and swords so clear then

Like any bead:                                                            (ring of folk)

Now wha shall play before such weir-men                                                                                 (warriors) Ben Habbie’s dead.

At clark-plays(1) when he wont to come                            ((1) a play composed/acted

His pipe play’d trimly to the drum:                                    by clerics or school men)

Like bikes of bees he gart it bum                                        (hives; made it drone) And tun’d his reed:

Now all our pipers may sing dumb Sen Habbie’s dead.

And at horse races many a day Before the black, the brown, the gray, He gart his pipe when he did play,

Baith skirl and skreed:                                                (shriek and screech) Now all such pastimes’ quite away

Sen Habbie’s dead.

He counted was a weil’d wight-man,                                  (a chosen brave man) And fiercely at football he ran:

At every game the gree he wan                                           (prize he won) For pith and speed.

The like of Habbie was na than, But now he’s dead.

And more besides his valiant acts

At bridals he won many placks;                                                                                        (coins) He bobbed ay behind fo’k’s backs

And shook his head:

Now we want many merry cracks Sen Habbie’s dead.

He was convoyer of the bride,

With Kittock hinging at his side:                                        (romping girl) About the Kirk he thought a pride

The ring to lead:

But now we may gae but a guide                                                                                 (without) For Habbie’s dead.

So well’s he kept his decorum

And all the stots of Whig-meg-morum:                             (step in dancing) He slew a man and wae’s me for him

And bure the fead!                                                      (put up with the feud) But yet the man won hame before him                       (got)

And was not dead.


And whan he play’d the lassies leugh To see him teethless, auld and teuch;

He won his pipes beside Barleugh                                                                                  (earned) Withouten dread!

Which after won him gear enough;                                     (won plenty wealth) But now he’s dead.

Ay when he play’d the gaitlings gedder’d,                          (urchins gathered)

And when he spake, the carl bledder’d,                              (old man boasted) On Sabbath days his cap was fedder’d,

A seemly weid;                                                            (proper outfit)

In the kirk-yeard his mare stood tedder’d Where he lies dead.

Alas! for him my heart is saur,

For of his spring I gat a skair,                                        (dancetune, share) At every play, race, feast, and fair,

But guile or greed;                                                  (without)

We need not look for pyping mair, Sen Habbie’s dead.