Ca the Ewes


Another from the pen of Robbie Burns, this time as far as Jon is concerned via Steeleye. “Mick Henry – a wonderful Irish singer resdident in Oxford, was very encouraging of my version of this song (which I got off a Steeleye Span album as it happens.) He remembers his mother singing it when he was young and says there are several other verses that would be worth learning. Like Kipling, in fact more so, Burns manages to pull off the literarey polish without losing touch with the earthiness of traditional song.” This was found in the 1853 edition of the Scots’ Musical Museum (follow this link.) In a letter from Rabbie to George Thomson, written in 1794,  Burns claims that about seven years prior “a worthy little fellow of a clergyman, a Mr Clunie” had sung the song to him. At Burns’s request Stephen Clarke, the musical arranger for the ‘Museum’, wrote it down as Clunie was singing. Sadly, nothing more is known about either the song or the tune, although Burns ia also quoted as saying,  “I added some stanzas to the song and mended others”. The poem was rewritten Sept. 1794. Mainly Norfolk has the two versions of the poems and the lyrics as sung by Shirly Collins and Steeleye Span (note the date given for the poem is obviously wrong.) Ive also just spotted this M N link as well, which shows Lou Killen also recorded it. Anyway, as it’s one of Burns Scottish dialect poems, this is given the RP treatment again. I’m not sure all of the following is necessary, but it may help…

knowes: knolls, hillocks

burnie: brooklet

rows: rolls

mavis: thrush.

Cluden’s woods: the woods of the ruined Lincluden Abbey at the junction of the rivers Cluden and Nith, Dumfriesshire.

faulding: folding, bring home the sheep

ghaist nor bogle: ghost nor goblin

This seems to me to be another of the shepherd and maid (or nymph) strand (see Shepherd Of The Downs), although it could equally be a simple love song. What do you think?

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38 Responses to “Ca the Ewes”

  1. BernieW says:

    My fave song yet … wasnt sure it would work sung by a englishman but it does !! enjoyed the fiddle too

  2. Matthew Edwards says:

    A lovely song indeed; and it brings back very pleasant memories of a 1950’s childhood when I used to listen to the Decca LP recording of Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten in Britten’s arrangement of ‘Ca the Yowes’. (LPs were the new technology then!!)

    There was a very clever clerihew which celebrated this musical partnership:-

    “There’s no need for Pears
    To give himself airs;
    He has them written
    By Benjamin Britten.”


  3. Jane Ramsden says:

    Oh, very Highlander MacLeod of MacLeod, my beautiful Heather! Bit of a haunt this one, and love the fiddle. The Celtish songs are doing it for me this month, but ‘there can be only one’ in the voting

  4. Jane Ramsden says:

    I didn’t know what a clerihew was so I Wiki-ed it:

    A clerihew is a whimsical, four-line biographical poem invented by Edmund Clerihew Bentley. One of his best known is this (1905):

    Sir Christopher Wren
    Went to dine with some men
    He said, “If anyone calls,
    Say I’m designing Saint Paul’s.”

    A clerihew has the following properties:
    It is biographical and usually whimsical, showing the subject from an unusual point of view; it pokes fun at mostly famous people.
    It has four lines of irregular length (for comic effect); the third and fourth lines are usually longer than the first two.
    The rhyme structure is AABB; the subject matter and wording are often humorously contrived in order to achieve a rhyme.
    The first line consists solely (or almost solely) of the subject’s name.

    Clerihews are not satirical or abusive, but they target famous individuals and reposition them in an absurd or commonplace setting, often giving them an over-simplified and slightly garbled description (similar to the schoolboy style of 1066 and All That). The unbalanced and unpolished poetic meter and line length parody the limerick, and the clerihew form also parodies the eulogy.

    You learn all sorts on here!

  5. Matthew Edwards says:

    Spiers and Boden
    Went climbing up Snowdon;
    When they reached the summit,
    Said Jon “I’ll sing if you hum it.”


  6. Barbara says:

    I am very pleased that ‘a worthy little fellow, Mr Clunie’ sang this song to Rabbie Burns.It is really beautiful and a lovely arrangement.

  7. Jane Ramsden says:

    Hehehe, Matthew. Snowden. That certainly was ‘humorously contrived in order to achieve a rhyme!’

  8. John Wigley says:

    Lovely! (look at me,I’m the Ramones of posting…)

  9. Only problem for the Peter Pears clerihew is that Pears is pronounced “peers” not “pairs”. Shame as it’s excellent otherwise.

    Peter Pears
    Was easily moved to tears
    Being hopelessly smitten
    With Benjamin Britten.

    Britten and Pears
    Were a pair of old… dears
    But luckily far too young to have been hit on
    By the late Edward Bulwer-Lytton.


  10. Jane Ramsden says:

    Bulwer-Lytton? He wrote my favourite line! ‘It was a dark and stormy night….’

    And also ‘The pen is mightier than the sword.’

  11. Judith Parker says:

    Loved this version! I first heard the song on a Kathleen Ferrier CD and have loved the song ever since.

  12. Jo Breeze says:

    More about Ca’ the Ewes from the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at the English Folk Dance and Song Society.

    There are 15 records of Ca’ the Ewes in the Library, collected from Scotland and Nova Scotia.

    We used the Roud number to cross reference against different titles for the song. When searched on Roud No. 857, there are 41 records, with titles including Ca’ the Yowes to the Knowes, Lovely Molly/Mallie, or The Ewe Lamb.

    If you wish to see more detail on each record, change the ‘output’ to ‘record’ and press ‘submit query’.

    There are no records of the song in the Take 6 archive.

    We use the Roud index and the Take 6 online collections in the search for information on Jon’s selections.

    For more information, or to carry out your own search for songs, please visit
    If you need any help accessing the library online or have any questions, please contact the VWML on 020 7485 2206 or

  13. Harry says:

    Bit of work needed on the pronunciation. Yowes and knowes and grows and rows (not “grows” a second time!) are meant to be rhymes, and Cluden is “clooden” not “cludden”. Ship, ha’porth of tar, and all that…?

  14. SRD says:

    Mentioning this song to a Scottish Ms of my acquaintance provoked a strong reaction. Apparently the authoress was one Isobel ‘Tibbie’ Pagan. Google came up with the following: although that suggests that she possibly knew the song from elsewhere and was just passing it on in a not dissimilar way to Jon’s work here.

  15. Harry Campbell says:

    Re the clerihew… Well what do I know. I have since been told that Peter Pears did at one time pronounce his name “pairs”, and that “peers” was a later affectation. Sorry for the off-topic-ness but I thought the record should be set straight.

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  17. Maggie says:

    I really enjoyed this – and it’s a song we used to sing at school in Yorkshire in the ’50s and I can still remember the words! One of the things I love about this project is that there are new and old songs that I love, others that I think are okay, and some that leave me cold. No matter which category the song falls into for me, I still think it’s great that they are there. By the way the majority are songs that I really enjoy.

    I’m very happy listening to last year’s songs – especially as I didn’t know about this until Sept so missed the early months. Many thanks for doing this, Maggie

  18. Joe Fineman says:

    The old Lincluden abbey is mentioned in another of Burns’s poems, a much more profane & pretty hilarious one, “Grim Grizzle”. At the very end of the poem, its walls echo the curses of a lady whose cows refuse to — well, look it up.

    A scientific clerihew by the eponym himself:

    Sir James Dewar
    Is smarter that you are.
    None of you asses
    Can condense gases.

    A more recent one:

    Alan Turing
    Must have been very alluring
    To have been made a don
    So early on.

  19. Diana says:

    I did enjoy this song but also thought all the above poetry was excellent. There are some clever clogs about!

  20. Edmund ClerihewBentley(deceased) says:

    Diana and Jane
    Keep their comments quite sane
    That strange Muzza fella
    What a wild story teller!

  21. Edmund ClerihewBentley(deceased) says:

    Jons(Johns) Boden and Spiers
    Been Together for years
    A true music sensation
    Delighting the nation

  22. Diana says:

    I believe I see a certain person’s hand in this. Muzza at it yet again.

    Diana and Jane
    Try hard in vain
    To muzzle that man
    Doesn’t look like we can

  23. Edmund ClerihewBentley(deceased) says:

    From Edmund Clerihew Bentley came a sigh
    I want to be remembered when I die
    Whimsical, biographical..make fun of a few
    Dammit..I’ll call it a Bentley!

  24. Diana says:

    I am not sure that I care to be corresponding with the dear departed. They seem to be really lively spirits who keep coming back to haunt us mortals!

  25. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Diana: Your clerihew – ‘muzzle that man’ – inspired! Hahahahahahahahaha!

    @ Muzza: I think Mr Bentley should remain where he was Little Mus-graved! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

  26. Edmund ClerihewBentley(deceased) says:

    Before I return to my ethereal rest (caused by wandering Ilkly Moor baht ‘at)

    Golds and silver by the ton
    Ee by gum, a lot’s been won
    By lads and lasses on track and bikes
    A tough, rum lot they Yarkshire Tykes

  27. Diana says:

    I saw a quote somewhere the other day which said “if Yorkshire was a country it would be well up with up in the medals table” or words to that effect.

    To the late deceased I would say a fond farewell, and do stop wandering over Ilkley Moor cos you are scaring the natives.

  28. Old Muzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    just testin’

  29. Old Muzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    Hey……….waddya know…………….I have managed to post today..I changed my mail address and it worked…’s just like finding the key to the sweetshop and with no grownups around the world is my Lobster….
    Must get to bed now…but will I be able to sleep?

  30. Old Muzza(NW Surrey.UK says:

    Well Lindy………I wonder if you’ll have seen my message from yesterday
    Gotta go for a walk now before the old body shuts down from being slouched in front of Daytime TV and endless repeats……………….I think Jane has gone on holiday to a sunny place……..her Cat(s) with neighbours………….I could be wrong!

  31. Linda says:

    Good morning Muzza made it at last. Some more of my favourites this month Frankie’s Trade from yesterday is still high up the list…..

  32. Old Muzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    Good morning-at 9:20pm!!!!…………welcome back on board…tempted to sneak a look at tomorrows song

  33. Jane Ramsden says:

    Well, I stand by my defence of Bulwer-Lytton & I am not alone in this. See link below!

    One of the most well-known opening lines of a book still read today, ‘Little Women,’ recently filmed, (“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.) is uninspiring at the side of ‘It was a dark and stormy night,’ the truncated first line from a book now no longer read, nor title even remembered! (‘Paul Clifford,’ about a highwayman during the French Revolution.) That is some literary legacy, further immortalised by Snoopy, to name but one!

    Aww, dear Daina, now dearly departed herself. She can wander over Ilkla’ Moor as much as she wants for me, immortalised by her clerihew above… inspired! Lol.

    Unlike Maggie above, who sang ‘Ca The Ewes’ at school in Yorkshire in the 50s, I never did in my part of Yorkshire around the same time. Think we were much more taken up with the Vaughan Williams folksong collection, something I have only come to appreciate properly since listening to Classic FM.

    Read below, the defence of Bulwer-Lytton I have been saving for such an occasion as this… not that he needs defending IMHO! Lol.

  34. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Seeking Effective, Bulwer-Lytton style First lines eh:-
    Try this for size ( that’s not it!)…..neither is that!….here we go……..

    Her bright eyes and cheery little face, broke into the sweetest of smiles as she swished off her gigantic red hat, pounced and grappled with the fiftieth feral Tom to fall into her clutches that day!

  35. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Ohhhh Matron……Sorry…But I have, yet again, sneaked an early peek ,
    Not so keen on the song….but what a fun-filled cornucopia of comments .Dainer did well!

  36. OldMuzza( NWSurrey UK) says:

    drat….have had trouble getting to AFSAD and now 15th and I missed out on this lovely banterful, exchange….got lots of catchup to get through….oh and we have had a devasting heatwave since 27th June!..hoping it breaks soon.

  37. OldMuzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    Ohhhhhhh….I do miss the banter and the old regulars (hi Lindy Lou)
    That Muzza-bless his old heart
    Is desperately playing his part
    wished he don’t give a fig
    him & Lindy lou alone at this gig

    Drat…can’t even get the cantor of a Clerihew right!

  38. Linda says:

    Hi Muzza

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