Afton Water

by Robert Burns
Lyric as sung by Dick Gaughan

Flow gently, sweet Afton, amang thy green braes
Flow gently, I'll sing thee a song in thy praise
My Mary's asleep by thy murmuring stream
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream

Thou stock dove whose echo resounds through the glen
Ye wild whistling blackbirds in yon thorny den
Thou green-crested lapwing, thy screaming forbear
I charge you, disturb not my slumbering fair

How pleasant thy banks and green valleys below
Where wild in the woodlands the primroses blow
There oft, as mild evening weeps over the lea
Thy sweet-scented birks shade my Mary and me

Thy crystal stream, Afton, how lovely it glides
And winds by the cot where my Mary resides
How wanton thy waters her snowy feet lave
As, gathering sweet flowerets, she stems thy clear wave

Flow gently, sweet Afton, amang thy green braes
Flow gently, sweet river, the theme of my lay
My Mary's asleep by thy murmuring stream
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream


Song Notes

Image of Robert BurnsThe only time I remember having recorded this was for a Scottish TV programme on Burns called "Supper Man" sometime in the early 1990s. All I remember about it was that it was recorded in a derelict basement of a warehouse in the Merchant City in Glasgow in midwinter and the only heating was a large industrial blower which had to be turned off during filming. My fingers were so cold I could hardly play but I have to admit that the atmosphere of the resulting film was very striking.

There are several melodies for this, one of the better-known being a pseudo-classical series of glissandos which I find a bit tedious. Behind the passionate declarations the song is actually one of unrequited - and unrequitable - desire, and I find the pretentiousness of that tune completely out of sympathy with the lyric; to my ear it sounds as if someone was trying to do a takeoff of Schubert and ended up wallowing in mediocrity. Naturally, that's the one normally chosen to be mutilated by dinner-jacketed tenors against piano accompaniment.

The tune I use has a more earthy wistfulness which I find much more suited to exploring the contradictions which formed the context for the song.


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