Scottish love poems & songs

Culture | 13 February 2021

It’s that time of the year again - red and pink take over shop shelves, rom-coms dominate TV schedules, and the whole world tries to convince us that everything can be made into a romantic gift. But as you landed on our blog, you clearly want to know how we celebrate Valentine's Day in Scotland.

But is there anything special or different about Valentine’s Day in Scotland? The modern craze to monetise love and devotion obviously reached the northern part of British Isles. Shops and restaurants prepare for the Valentine’s rush, as do hotels offering romantic getaways. We absolutely see the merit in spending a weekend together in Edinburgh or escaping from the rest of the world to a remote Highland cottage. But as travel still isn’t in full, safe swing, we thought a few love songs and poems could bring a Scottish shade to your Valentine’s celebrations.

A Red, Red Rose

No list of Scotland’s favourite love verses would be complete without this poem by its national poet, Robert Burns. Published for the first time in 1794 in a collection of traditional Scottish songs set to music, it was inspired by contemporary ballads of the period, as well as a simple Scots song Burns had overheard on his wanderings across the country. 

As the national bard teaches us, true love (or luve in Scots) will never be bound by time and space – which is handy as his prophecies of the seas going dry and rocks melting with the sun don’t seem so far-fetched after 2020… The poem has the form of a ballad and is meant to be sung aloud – as every declaration of affection should. Give it a go!

O my Luve is like a red, red rose

   That’s newly sprung in June;

O my Luve is like the melody

   That’s sweetly played in tune.

 

So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,

   So deep in luve am I;

And I will luve thee still, my dear,

   Till a’ the seas gang dry.

 

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,

   And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;

I will love thee still, my dear,

   While the sands o’ life shall run.

 

And fare thee weel, my only luve!

   And fare thee weel awhile!

And I will come again, my luve,

   Though it were ten thousand mile.

Valentine

If you’re celebrating Valentine’s Day in Scotland and looking for a last-minute gift on a budget, we got you sorted: pop in to your local shop for a nice card and an onion. You might survive with such a cheeky present, as long as you copy the next poem into your note. First published in Carol Ann Duffy’s 1993 poetry collection Mean Time, “Valentine” is a 180° turn on Rabbie’s rosy take on gifts.

In this free verse dramatic monologue written by Glasgow-born ex-Poet Laureate, the speaker presents their lover with an onion. Risky move, you’ll agree, but it doesn’t come without an explanation. Away with idealized images of love – the speaker says – we need more honest portrayals of its effects. With plain, straightforward language, the monologue gives a fresh perspective on how we relate to others.

Not a red rose or a satin heart.

 

I give you an onion.

It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.

It promises light

like the careful undressing of love.

 

Here.

It will blind you with tears

like a lover.

It will make your reflection

a wobbling photo of grief.

 

I am trying to be truthful.

 

Not a cute card or a kissogram.

 

I give you an onion.

Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,

possessive and faithful

as we are,

for as long as we are.

 

Take it.

Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding ring,

if you like.

Lethal.

Its scent will cling to your fingers,

cling to your knife.

I love A lassie

Back to more traditional tunes, we arrive at a Scottish song written in 1905 by comedian and singer Sir Harry Lauder. Arguably first Scottish superstar, the legendary performer went from music halls and vaudeville to being one of the most famous entertainers in the world.

He definitely was the highest paid performer of the pre-Great War years, earning a thousand dollars a night when touring the USA. Try to emulate his success: fire up the video below, sing along to your Valentine in a vintage voice and see what you get in return…

I’m gonna be (500 miles)

Judging on the last line of Burns’ Red, Red Rose, bragging about long-distance hikes is a thing in Scottish love songs. The last Valentine’s verse in our compilation was written and performed by Scottish twin brothers Craig and Charlie Reid, better known as The Proclaimers. First released as the lead single from their 1988 album Sunshine on Leith, the song reached number 11 in the UK Singles Chart on its initial release, later becoming a number 1 hit in Iceland, Australia and New Zealand. After featuring in the Johnny Depp movie Benny & Joonn in 1993, the song was released in North America and many other countries around the world, reaching number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. A true Scottish modern classic – no matter where you are – it will make you feel you’re celebrating Valentine’s Day in Scotland!