Polwart on the Green

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X:1 T:Polwart on the Green M:C| L:1/8 R:Air S:Thomson - Orpheus Caledonius (1733, No. 24) Z:AK/Fiddler’s Companion K:D B2|{G}F2 (ED) {B}A2 (GF)|A4 z2 (de)|f2 (ef) (gf)(ed)|e4 z2 A2| {G}F2 (ED) {B}A2 (GF)|(G3A B2) (AG)|A3f (gf) (ef)|d6|| (de)|(fg) (ab) a2 (gf)|(ef) (ga) g2 (fe)|d3e (de) (fg)|e4 z2A2| {G}F2 (ED) {B}A2 (GF)|G3A B2 (AG)|A2f2 (gf) (ef)|d6|]



POLWORTH/POLWART ON THE GREEN. Scottish, Air (4/4 time). D Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB. The tune was included by Allan Ramsay in his ballad opera The Gentle Shepherd (1725), and was also used as the last tune in James Oswald's (1710-1769) "Sonata of Scots Tunes" (published in his Curious Collection of Scots Tunes, c. 1739), a variation sonata of which each movement is a different traditional air. Scottish musician and dancing master David Young included a version with variation sets in his MacFarlane Manuscript (c. 1740). The tune was a vehicle for songs in over a dozen 18th century ballad operas, and the song itself is a staple for modern-day anthologies. In modern times it remains well-known in Scottish country dance circles. Polwarth on the Green is an ancient Borders village in Berwickshire, Scotland, in the region known as the Merse, between the hills and the North Sea. A wedding custom extent into the 19th century involved dancing around two very old thorn trees in the middle of the sloping village green, a tradition derived from the following (quoted from the Hume history):

In the time of Robert II (1371-1390) Sir Patrick de Polwarth died, leaving an only child, Elizabeth, the last of her race. She carried the broad lands of Polwart and Kimmerghame into the Sinclare family by her marriage with Sir John Sinclair of Herdmanston. Their great-grandson, John Sinclair, died in the fifteenth century without male issue. The estate of Herdmanston devolved on his brother, Sir William Sinclair (from whom the present Lord Sinclair is descended), but his lands of Polwarth and Kimmerghame went to his daughters, Marion and Margaret. The heiresses were young and beautiful; and among the many suitors that flocked round them, those that met with the greatest favour in their eyes were two brothers, George and Patrick, the young Humes of Wedderburn. The ladies’ uncle, Sir William, fearing that their lands should go out of the family, not only refused his consent, but removed his nieces from their castle of Polwart to lonely Herdmanston, his stronghold on the northern slopes of Lammermuir. Though closely immured, they contrived, by the help of an old beggar woman, to send a message to Wedderburn. A day or two later, a gallant train, headed by the two young lovers, rode over this hills and drew rein beneath the castle walls. An angry parley followed the demand for the restoration of their lady-loves; but the “Men o’ the Merse” were too strong to be resisted, and Sir William had the mortification of seeing the heiresses borne away in triumph. The double marriage was celebrated at Polwarth, and the wedding-dance took place around the thorn tree.

The song was attributed to Captain John Drummond M'Gregor, of the family of Bochaldie, by poet Robert Burns, but every other source gives Allan Ramsay as the author; however it has been determined that the first four and last four lines of the song are older than Ramsay's day. It begins with this verse, from Thomson's Orpheus Caledonius [1] (1733, No. 24):

At Polwart on the Green,
If you'll meet me the Morn,
Where Lasses do conveen,
To dance about the Thorn;
A kindly welcome you shall meet,
Frae her wha likes to view,
A Lover and a lad complete,
The Lad and Lover you.

The following verse is of unknown origin:

At Polwart-on-the-Green
We oft hae merry been
And merry we’ll be still
While stands the Kylie’s hill;
And round the corn bing
We’ll hae a canty fling
And round about the Thorn
We’ll dance till grey-eyed morn
Shall lifet her drowsy bree
On mountain, vale and lea.

At Polwart-on-the-Green
Our forbears oft were seen
To dance about the Thorn
When they gat in their corn
Wo we her sons wha be
Shall keep their ancient glee.
Nor let the gree gang doun
While Polwart is a toun.

See also notes for "English Bring to Gratney Green the Lasses that Hae Siller (The)" and "O'er Bogie" for more on Borders marriage customs.

Additional notes

Source for notated version: -

Printed sources : - Johnson (The Scots Musical Museum, vol. 2), 1788; p. 191. McGibbon (Scots Tunes, book III), 1762; p. 81. James Oswald (Caledonian Pocket Companion Book 1), 1760; pp. 6-7. Stuart (Musick for Allan Ramsey's Collection of Scots Songs), 1724; pp. 6-7. Thomson (Orpheus Caledonius, vol. 1) [2], 2nd edition, 1733; pp. 49-50.

Recorded sources: -Linn CDK101, Concerto Caledonia – “Colin’s Kisses: The Music of James Oswald.” Philo PH 1054, Jean Redpath - "Song of the Seals" (1978).

See also listing at:
Hear a recording of James Oswald's Sonata setting on youtube.com [3]
See a standard notation transcription of David Young's version in the MacFarlane Manuscript (c. 1740) [4]



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