Songwriting Basics Section II – Analysis 35: Now Westlin Winds

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Bob Leslie is an Independent Scottish Songwriter, Singer, and Recording Artist

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The original ecological love-song …

Now, Westlin Winds – originally titled Song Composed In August –  is one of Robert Burns’ earliest songs, although he revised it several times.

It was first written, in standard English,  in 1775 at the time of the 16-year-old Burns’ infatuation with a girl called Peggy Thomson of Kirkoswald. He wrote in a letter to his friend, Dr Moore, in August 1787:

`I spent my seventeenth summer on a smuggling coast a good distance from home at a noted school, to learn Mensuration, Surveying, Dialling, etc …

I went on with a high hand in my Geometry; till the sun entered Virgo, a month which is always a carnival in my bosom, a charming Fillette who lived next door to the school overset my Trigonometry, and set me off on a tangent from the sphere of my studies.’

Later, he tried out a modification of this early song in honour of Jean Armour, but no known copy survives.

Going back to the same song, Burns then sent the version we are familiar with to be printed in The Scots Musical Museum (vol. iv, 1792).

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It’s a beautiful love song to the girl and the season which, like his poem Tae a Moose deplores man’s destructive effect on nature’s social union.

The observations as to where each bird finds its place and how it behaves are entirely accurate – it’s a very detailed song indeed for a 16-year-old!

Man’s exploitative and destructive approach to Nature is contrasted with the poet’s love
for its beauty and form – an admiration he also extends to the lovely Peggy.

It’s a love-song both to the natural world and to her place in it.

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The definitive version for modern ears has to be Dick Gaughan’s.dick.gif

Dick uses a tune he learned from an old Edinburgh folksinger called Geordie Hamilton. Largely because of Dick’s performance, it’s now pretty much the established tune for the poem.

However, it’s not either of the ones that Burns set it to – older melodies called, respectively I Had a Horse, I Had Nae Mair and Port Gordon.

I’ve been unable to find the original source of the tune, so that part’s shrouded in mystery. I have, however, heard the other two melodies, and there’s no doubt that Dick’s one fits the mood of the poem best.

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Lend an ear and an eye …

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Now Westlin Winds

Robert Burns, arr © Dick Gaughan 1980

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The rhythm to beat …heart.gif

The lyric is extremely regular (as one would expect from a poet of that time).

Each line contains 4 stresses which, with the exception of V1L7 fit within a pattern of iambic tetrametre (4 x dah-DUM). That line alternates anapests (dah-dah-DUM) with iambs (dah-Dum).

  • “|Now west– |-lin winds | and slaught’– |-ring guns
    Bring aut– |-umn’s pleas– |-ant wea– |-ea-ther
    The moor– |cock springs |on whir– |-ring wings
    Am-ang |the bloom– |-ing hea– |-ea-ther
    Now wav– |-ing grain, |wild o’er |the plain
    Del-ights |the wea– |-ry fa– |-ar-mer
    And the moon |shines bright |as I rove |at night
    To muse |up-on |my cha– |-ar-mer |”

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Rhyme time …clock

The end-rhyme pattern is also regular:

A  B  C  B 
D  E  F  E

“guns” “weather”
“wings” “heather”
“plain” “farmer”
“night” “charmer”

L7 also has an internal rhyme/half-rhyme in each verse:

“bright” “night”
“bush” “thrush”
“joy” “cry”
“corn” “thorn”
“be” “me”

Pretty clever for a lad of 16 years!

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Key point …key

Now Westlin Winds is in the key of D major throughout – the C note in the Gsus4 chord in the breaks and intro is Dick Gaughan’s own interpolation.

In normal guitar tuning, the notes of Gsus4 would be (lower strings first)

G  B  D  G  C  G

The melody is a pleasant lilting one, spanning a full 9th from low G to high A. The lilt recalls that of a  strathspey – making it even more of a fit within the Scottish folk tradition. While making good use of the notes therein, the song should be comfortably singable by most performers.

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Summing up …sum.gif

So, what’s the verdict? Well, far be it from me to criticise a Robert Burns poem as warm and evocative as this! It follows all the poetic norms of the time, while still being bright and original.

yay

 

The melody is beautiful, climbing up and down the scale on alternating lines, and fitting the lyrics perfectly.

I love the song – and I’m not the only one! It’s a winner!

 

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Next time, we’ll look at a modern 
classic of the folk repertoire!

 

 

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