Auld Robin Gray

[Scenery & Songs Contents]

Auld Robin Gray.

Arranged by John S. Macgregor.

Young Jamie lo’ed me weel, and sought me for his bride, 

But saving a crown he had naething beside; 

To mak the crown a pound, my Jamie gaed to sea, 

And the crown and the pound were baith for me. 

He had na’ been gane a week but only twa, 

When my faither brak his arm, and our cow was stown awa’; 

My mither she fell sick, and my Jamie at the sea, 

And auld Robin Gray cam a courting me. 


My faither couldna’ work, and my mither couldna’ spin, 

I toil’d day and night, but their bread I couldna’ win; 

Auld Rob maintain’d them baith, and wi’ tears in his e’e, 

Said “Jenny for their sakes, will ye marry me?” 

My heart it said “nay,” I look’d for Jamie back; 

But the wind it blew high, and the ship it was a wreck; 

The ship it was a wreck, why didna Jenny die? 

And why do I live to say, “wae is me”? 


My faither urged me sair, though my mither didna’ speak, 

She look’d in my face till my heart was like to break; 

So I gied him my hand though my heart was in the sea, 

And auld Robin Gray is gudeman to me. 

I hadna’ been a wife a week but only four, 

When sitting saw mournfully at my ain door, 

I saw my Jamie’s wraith, for I couldna’ think it he, 

Till he said, “I’m come back, love, to marry thee.” 


O sair did we greet, and muckle did we say; 

We took but ae kiss, and we tore ourselves away; 

I wish I were dead, but I am not like to die; 

And why do I live to say, “wae is me?” 

I gang like a ghaist and carena’ to spin; 

I darna think on Jamie, for that would be a sin; 

But I’ll do my best a gude wife to be, 

For auld Robin Gray is kind unto me. 

Paul Burns has performed a rendition of this tune for us;


Lady Anne Barnard (born —-, died 1845), sister of the late Earl of Balcarras, and wife of Sir Andrew Barnard, wrote the charming song of Auld Robin Gray. A quarto tract, edited by “the Ariosto of the North,” and circulated among the members of the Bannatyne Club, contains the original ballad, as corrected by Lady Anne, and two continuations by the same authoress; while the introduction consists almost entirely of a very interesting letter from her to the editor, dated July, 1823, part of which we take the liberty of inserting here:- ” ‘Robin Gray,’ so called from its being the name of the old herd at Balcarras, was born soon after the close of the year 1771. My sister Margaret had married, and accompanied her husband to London; I was melancholy, and endeavoured to amuse myself by attempting a few poetical trifles. There was an ancient Scotch melody of which I was passionately fond; —-, who lived before our day, used to sing it to us at Balcarras. She did not object to its having improper words, though I did. – I longed to sing old Spoy’s air to different words, and give to its plaintive tones some little history of virtuous distress in humble life, such as might suit it. While attempting to effect this in my closet, I called to my little sister, now Lady Hardwick, who was the only person near me: ‘I have been writing a ballad, my dear; I am oppressing my heroine with many misfortunes. I have already sent her Jamie to sea – and broken her father’s arm – and made her mother fall sick, and given her Auld Robin Gray for her lover, but I wish to load her with a fifth sorrow within the four lines, poor thing! Help me to one.’ ‘Steal the cow, sister Anne,’ said the little Elizabeth. The cow was immediately lifted by me, and the song completed. At our fireside, and amongst our neighbours, ‘Auld Robin Gray’ was called for. I was pleased in secret with the approbation it met with; but such was my dread of being suspected of writing anything, perceiving the shyness it created in those who could write nothing, that I carefully kept my own secret. Meanwhile, little as this matter seems to have been worthy of dispute, it afterwards became a party question between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. Robin Gray was either a very ancient ballad, composed, perhaps, by David Rizzio, and a great curiosity, or a very modern matter, and no curiosity at all. I was persecuted to avow whether I had written it or not – where I had got it. Old Sophy kept my council, and I kept my own in spite of the gratification of seeing a reward of twenty guineas offered in the newspapers to the persons who should ascertain the point past a doubt, and the still more flattering circumstance of a visit from Mr Jerningham, secretary to the Antiquarian Society, who endeavoured to entrap the truth from me in a manner I took amiss. Had he asked me the question obligingly, I should have told him the fact distinctly and confidentially. – The annoyance, however, of this importunate ambassador from the antiquaries, was amply repaid to me by the noble exhibition of the ‘Ballet of Auld Robin Gray’s Courtship,’ as performed by dancing dogs under my window. It proved its popularity from the highest to the lowest, and gave me pleasure, while I hugged myself in my obscurity.” Lady Anne subsequently tells the manner in which the Secretary of the Antiquarians tried to get her secret. It was as follows:- After she had sung the song, he knowingly said to her, “My dear, the next time you sing that song, try to change the words a wee bit, and instad of singing ‘to make the crown a pound my Jamie gaed to sea,’ to make it twenty merks, for a Scottish pund is but twenty pence, and Jamie was nae such a gowk as to leave Jenny and gang to sea to lessen his gear. It is that line (whispered he) that tells me that sang was written by some bonny lassie that didna ken the value of Scots money quite so well as an auld writer in the toun of Edinburgh would have kent it.”

– Elgin Courier, Friday 5th March, 1847, p.4.

2 thoughts on “Auld Robin Gray

  1. This is a prompt for me! The last few weeks have been work, work, work… the fiddle needs a tune and Jenny, this is it!

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