The Scottish Poem That May Be About My Ancestors

Written by Dyami Millarson

My surname Millarson is very rare. According to family tradition, our surname is of Scottish descent. The first element “millar,” as opposed to the English “miller,” would point to this Scottish origin. So far, I have been able to verify that millar is indeed an ancient Scottish spelling of miller. While I was searching for historical information about my surname, I found on Thursday 3 October 2019 a ballad or song about a “millar’s son” in Vol. II of a work called Ancient Ballads and Songs of the North of Scotland with explanatory notes by Peter Buchan, published in 1875. As the titular page of the work explains, the ancient ballads and songs had been “hitherto unpublished” and thus it suggests these once belonged to a vibrant Scottish oral tradition. What struck me about the poem that it talks from the female’s perspective about a forbidden romantic love and that it mentions the “millar’s son” was a seafarer. This would coincide with my family history; for the ancient Millarsons in my family must have been Scottish seafarers who ended up in the (at that time) British colony of Surinam. This perfect historical match makes me believe that the “millar’s son” might be related to me, and that the female narrator might be related to me as well. Personally, I am inclined to believe that the “millar’s son”, as mentioned in the ballad or song, is the same as “Millarson.” It could even be hypothesised that this millar’s son is the original name bearer of the family name “Millarson” which is exceedingly rare and the idea that the he will be a millar’s son till the day he dies may be regarded, perhaps only in hindsight, as an allusion to this reality; it is also possible this “millar’s son” might simply be an ancestor or relative of mine who inherited his name from previous generations. The poem may be regarded as an origin story of the Millarson family name either way. The ballad or song mentions that the “millar’s son” was poor and thus it emphasises the low social status of the “millar’s son”, which is why it was a forbidden love, and this is what makes the ballad/song particularly emotionally intriguing as a piece of poetry. I was in fact moved by it; for I like this particular emotionally sensitive style. Here follows the poem that might be related to me as a descendant of a “millar’s son”:

The Millar’s Son

O woe is me, the time draws nigh

My love and I must part;

No one doth the cares and fears

Of my poor troubled heart.

 

Already I have suffered much,

Our parting cost me dear;

Unless I were to go with you,

Or to tarry you here.

 

My heart is fixed within his breast,

And that he knows right well;

I fear that I some tears will shed,

When I bid you farewell.

 

When I bid you farewell, she said,

This day, and woe is me;

And cauld and shrill the wind blows still,

Between my love and me.

 

The hat my love wears on his head,

It’s not made of the woo;

But it is o’ the silk so fine,

And becomes his noble brow.

 

His eyes do wink, and aye so jimp,

His hair shines like the broom;

And I would not give my laddic’s love

For a’ the wealth in Rome.

 

He said, Farewell, my dearest dear,

Since from you I must go;

Let ne’er your heart be full of grief,

Nor anguish make you woe.

 

If life remains, I will return.

And bar you companie;

Now cauld and shrill the wind blows still

Between my love and me.

 

His bonnie middle is so well made,

His shoulders brave and braid;

Out of my mind he’ll never be

Till in my grave I’m laid.

 

Till I’m in grave laid low, she says,

Alas! and woe is me;

Now cauld and raw, the wind does blaw,

Between my love and me.

 

Some do mourn for oxen, she said,

And others mourn for kye [= cows];

And some do mourn for dowie death,

But none for love but I.

What need I make all this din,

For this will never dee [= die];

And cauld and shrill the wind blaws still

Between my love and me.

She’s ta’en her mantle her about,

And sat down by the shore,

In hopes to meet with some releif,

But still her grief grew more.

O I’ll sit here while my life’s in,

Until the day I die;

O cauld and shrill the wind blaws still

Between my love and me.

O see ye not yon bonnie ship,

She’s beauteous to behold;

Her sails are of the tafety fine,

Her topmasts shine like gold.

In yonder ship my love does skip,

And quite forsaken me;

And caudl and shrill the wind blaws still

Between my love and me.

My love he’s neither laird nor lord,

Nor ane of noble kin;

But my bonnie love, the sailor bold,

Is a poor millar’s son.

He is a millar’s son, she says,

And will be till he die;

And cauld and shrill the wind blaws still

Between my love and me.

My love he’s bound to leave the land,

And cross the watery faem;

And the bonnie ship my love sails in,

The Goldspink is her name.

She sails mair bright than Phoebus fair

Out o’er the raging sea;

And cauld and shrill the wind blaws still

Between my love and me.

He promised to send letters to me,

Ere six months they were gone;

But now nine months they are expired,

And I’ve received none.

So I may sigh, and say, alas!

This day, and woe is me;

And cauld and shrill the wind blaws still

Between my love and me.

I wish a stock-stone aye on earth

And high wings on the sea;

To cause my true love stay at home

Andno more go from me.

What needs me for to wish in vain?

Such things will never be;

The wind blaws sair in every where

Between my love and me.

21 comments

  1. I am from the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina (USA) with a rich tradition of oral ballads kept in my family (Scotch Irish heritage). I say that I am from the part of the country where people still make their own bread, their own music, and their own whiskey! Everything you have written about your personal connection to this ballad rings so very true! Enjoy !

    Liked by 4 people

  2. My family argued about our German original location. Recently I did the ancestry.com test and found a small circle encompassing Wurzburg (Wertzberg), where my grandmother insisted was home. They have amazing results.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Millar sounds Czech. Since Scandinavians were very active on the British Isles and in Eastern Europe, i would suspect some German/Slavic/Scandinavian origin of the name.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. This is a neat story about you. The poem is precious. I think what Operation X is doing, & not wanting old languages to die is a fabulous thing. Hope there are like-minded flame-keepers to keep on with it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My wife’s family is from Scotland (Paisley). We learned that there was little standardized spelling before about 1850, so her family name, Slater, might have been spelled Sclater or Slatter, depending on who wrote it down. That makes it hard to research surname ancestry.

    Liked by 1 person

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