Banks of the Dee | American Revolution War Song

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Frank Moore
Frank Moore

Frank Moore was a journalist and Revolutionary historian. He published a number of books on the American Revolution during his career in the mid-19th century, including Songs and Ballads of the American Revolution, Diary of the American Revolution and The Patriot Preachers of the American Revolution.

This beautiful song was very popular, both in England and the colonies. It was composed by John Tait, a writer to the Signet and, for some time, a judge in one of the minor courts at Edinburgh. It is adapted to the Irish air called Langolee. The song has often, though erroneously, been attributed to the Rev. John Home, author of the tragedy of “Douglass.” It was first printed in the Pennsylvania Ledger, at Philadelphia, and also inserted in Wilson’s collection, published at Edinburgh in 1779, with some additional stanzas, written by a lady; but her verses are far inferior to the original.

Banks of the Dee1

‘TWAS summer, and softly the breezes were blowing, And sweetly the nightingale sang from the tree.
At the foot of a hill, where the river was flowing,
I sat myself down on the banks of the Dee.2

Flow on, lovely Dee, flow on thou sweet river,
Thy banks, purest stream, shall be dear to me ever,
For there I first gain’d the affection and favor
Of Jamie, the glory and pride of the Dee.

But now he’s gone from me, and left me thus mourning, To quell the proud rebels, for valiant is he;
But ah! there’s no hope of his speedy returning,
To wander again on the banks of the Dee:
He’s gone, hapless youth, o’er the rude roaring billows, The kindest, the sweetest, of all his brave fellows;
And left me to stray ‘mongst these once lovèd willows, The loneliest lass on the banks of the Dee.

But time and my prayers may perhaps yet restore him,
Blest peace may restore my dear lover to me,
And when he returns, with such care I’ll watch o’er him,
He never shall leave the sweet banks of the Dee.
The Dee then will flow, all its beauty displaying,
The lambs on its banks will again be seen playing,
Whilst I, with my Jamie, am carelessly straying,
And tasting again all the sweets of the Dee.

  1. The Banks of the Dee was written in 1775, on the departure of a friend for America, to join the British forces, who were, at that time, endeavoring “to quell the proud rebels” of Columbia; but the issue of that contest was very different from the anticipations of the bard.
  2. The Banks of the Dee. Robert Burns, in a letter to George Thomson, dated 7th April 1793, says, “The banks of the Dee, is, you know, literally Langolee, to slow time. The song is well enough, but has some false imagery in it, for instance,’And sweetly the nightingale sang from the tree.’

    “In the first place, the nightingale sings in a low bush, but never from a tree; and in the second place, there never was a nightingale seen or heard on the banks of the Dee, or on the banks of any other river in Scotland. Exotic rural imagery is always comparatively flat.”

    The justice of these remarks seems to have been allowed by Mr. Tait; for in a new edition of the song, retouched by himself, some years after, for Mr. Thomson’s collection, the first half stanza is printed thus:

    “‘Twas summer, and softly the breezes were blowing, And sweetly the wood pigeon coo’d from the tree.
    At the foot of a rock, where the wild rose was growing,
    I sat myself down on the banks of the Dee.”
    Shenstone’s Lyrics.

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