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Updated 03/20/2020


The Birken Tree

The Birken “Birch” Tree is a romantic ballad structured on a running dialogue between two young lovers, Johnny and Jean. Johnny is trying to woo the suspicious Jean, and wants to arrange a meeting underneath a birch tree.

In early Celtic mythology, the birch “birken” came to symbolize renewal and purification. Beithe, the Celtic birch, is the first tree of the Ogham, the Celtic tree alphabet. It was celebrated during the festival of Samhain (what is now Halloween in Britain), the start of the Celtic year, when purification was also important. Bundles of birch twigs were used to drive out the spirits of the old year. Later this would evolve into the ‘beating the bounds’ ceremonies in local parishes. Gardeners still use the birch besom, or broom, to ‘purify’ their gardens.

The ballad climaxes with a meeting between the two young lovers underneath the birch tree, where they pledge their love for one another.



"Oh, lass gin ye wad think it richt tae gang wi' me this very nicht
We'll cuddle till the morning licht, by a' the lave unseen, O
It's ye shall be my dearie, my ain dearest dearie
An' ye shall be my dearie, gin you meet me at e'en, O"

"I dare nae frae my mammie gae, she locks the door and keeps the key
And e'en an' mornin' charges me, and aye aboot the men, oh
She said they're all deceivers, deceivers, deceivers
She said they're all deceivers, we canna trust tae ane, O"

"O never mind your mammie's yell, nae doot she met yer dad hersel'
And should she flyte ye may her tell she's aften done the same, O.
Sae lassie gie's yer hand on't, your bonnie milk-white hand on't,
So lassie gie's yer hand on't, and scorn tae lie your lane, O".

"O lad, my hand I canna gie, but aiblins I may steal the key
And meet ye at the birken tree that grows down in the glen, O.
But dinna lippen laddie, I canna promise laddie
But dinna lippen laddie, in case I cann win, O."

Noo he gane tae the birken tree, in hopes his true love there tae see
An' wha cam' trippin' o'er the lea, but just his bonnie Jean, O,
An' she sat doon beside him, beside him, beside him,
An' she sat doon beside him, upon the grass sae green, O.

"I'm overjoyed wi' rapture noo," cried he an' kissed her cherry mou'
And Jeannie ne'er had cause tae rue that nicht upon the green, O
For she has got her Johnnie, her sweet an' loving Johnnie,
For she has got her Johnnie, an' Johnnie's got his Jean, O.