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Culloden, April 16, 1746

In the Winter of 1745, the Jacobite army of Bonnie Prince Charlie passed through my town of Leek on the way to Derby. This was as far as they got before retreating back to the highlands, chased by the Duke of Cumberland, all the way to the slaughter of Culloden. The surrounding Moorlands can be quite spooky in Winter and many folk have heard the sound of bagpipes, particularly when misty.

In the deepest, dark December,
Far beneath our Moorland sky
See a band of soldiers marching,
Pipes are playing, banners fly.
Hear the cry for Caledonia,
Snow is gently falling down.
See the ragged Highland army,
Make its passage through our town.

See the English Redcoat soldier,
Hardened to his task in hand.
Cumberland, he’ll give no quarter,
Heading north across the land.
Hear the cry of desperation,
Lost, the prize of England’s crown.
See the ragged Highland army,
Running swiftly from our town.

See them on the field of battle,
Highland lads, they stand so proud.
Many miles they’ve shared together,
Nothing can divide them now.
Hear the mighty crash of cannon,
Loud the plaintive battle-cry.
Blood is mingled with the heather,
‘Neath a dark and dreary sky.

Now if you go Winter walking,
On our misty moorland wide.
When the stars of bold Orion,
March across the evening sky.
Hear the sad, lamenting piper,
On the wind that gently moans.
Leading out the Highland army,
Ever marching, marching home.

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Jeff Eardley lives in the heart of England near to the Peak District National Park and is a local musician playing guitar, mandolin and piano steeped in the music of America, including the likes of Ry Cooder, Paul Simon, and particularly Hank Williams.


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18 Responses

  1. David Watt

    This is a wonderfully atmospheric historical narrative Jeff.
    The repetition of the word ‘marching’ in the final stanza is a clever way of emphasizing the perpetual ghostly procession.

    Reply
    • Jeff Eardley

      David, thank you so much for your interest. We have an isolated ale house high up in the moorlands called “The Royal Cottage” with a sign featuring the Bonnie Prince himself. On my last visit, the landlady told me that the bench that I was sitting on was from that time and was, “ At least a hundred years old” which reminded me of the Billy Connolly joke that the Jacobites should never have put their trust in a man named after three sheep dogs.

      Reply
      • David Watt

        I hadn’t heard that joke before. It’s a ripper!

  2. Brian Yapko

    I enjoyed this poem very much, Jeff. A very interesting slice of history seen through the lens of a ghostly encounter and appropriately set to militarily rhythmic iambic tetrameter. I would not want to visit those Moorlands during a misty winter but I have a soft spot for bagpipes. Well done!

    Reply
  3. Jeff Eardley

    Brian, I am sure that you can get counselling to deal with your bagpipe affliction. The great English conductor, Sir Thomas Beecham regarded the bagpipes as the easiest of instruments to learn in that they sound just as bad when you can play them as when you can’t. I once heard the phantom pipes myself but closer inspection revealed the noise to be a sheep that had rolled onto its back. I helped the poor creature onto its feet only to be rewarded by a kick in the goolies, an example of the Old English expression, “It’s as much use as a sheep’s thank you.”
    Thank you for your kind and graceful comment.

    Reply
  4. Yael

    Yet another nice example of how history should be taught in order to be memorable and enjoyable. Thanks for a great poem.

    Reply
  5. Paul Freeman

    What’s everyone got against the redcoats? They get such a bad press.

    Thanks for the read, Jeff – and a little bit of history that till now’s passed me by.

    Reply
    • Jeff Eardley

      Thanks Paul. I guess the Redcoat was adopted as to hide any bloodstains in battle. I read that when faced with a formidable foe, most of them asked for their brown trousers.

      Reply
  6. Julian D. Woodruff

    Great, Brian.
    Am I wrong in hearing something of the tone and manner of Kipling in these lines–at least his clarity and forthrightness?

    Reply
    • Jeff Eardley

      Julian, thank you for your kind words. I love Kipling but fear that he is being air-brushed out of our consciousness by the anti-colonial woke brigade.

      Reply
  7. Margaret Coats

    Jeff, I had been hoping for a Scottish poem–and this is an excellent one beyond your usual tone and oeuvre. It domesticates the militant and ghostly battle right outside your town (a great way for the poet to get close to his subject).
    Caledonian pride is heartshakingly strong in the third stanza with “Nothing can divide them now” even as they run. But the march returns with force in the final stanza, as David Watt noted. This is the march of Scots who are often defeated but never give up, and you turn it into the march of stars across the sky. On behalf of everyone proud of Scottish descent, thank you for this poem on one of our most inspiring losses.

    On that redcoat issue of what fighting men wore, recall that Culloden led to the banning of traditional Highland dress for a generation. That is, the usurping British government (for the sake of national security, of course) told free Scots what to wear, leading one to complain of confinement in breeches. The historical painting that heads this post was done by an artist who died before the ban was lifted.

    Reply
  8. Jeff Eardley

    Margaret, I have a fascination for this slice of history that took place here, from the annual Highland games in the Derbyshire town of Ashbourne, to the small hamlet of Tompkin, derived from, “Tam’s skin” where a local farmer flayed the skin from the back of a Jacobite soldier intent on sheep rustling. I recall a visit we once made to Edinburgh where a hotel manager showed us a painted image of the Bonnie Prince that could only be viewed in the reflection onto a candlestick. We also have a most isolated ale-house, The Royal Cottage, so named after hosting a party of Jacobites. Thank you for your comments on highland attire of which I was unaware. Best wishes to you and yours.

    Reply
    • Sally Cook

      Jeff, When I was trying to say… this evocative poem seems made for a lyric, I stepped away for a cup of coffee. When I returned, my unfinished post had disappeared

      I assumed I’d lost it, but now I see the blasted computer had sent it off, full of mistakes and attributed to a mysterious “S “.– Here it is again:
      Not only is your poem full of lyrical qualities, I find your references to the winds on the moors constant drumbeat and ghostly companion to soldiers on both sides. Thank you for sharing this.

      Reply
  9. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Jeff, I love everything about this poem – the rhyme, the rhythm, the eerie atmosphere, the images – especially: ‘Blood is mingled with the heather, / ‘Neath a dark and dreary sky.’ I can see it all! I’m with Yael on the history lesson front. If maths lessons were taught in limerick form, I would have been a rich accountant instead of a poor poet. Great stuff!

    Reply
  10. Jeff Eardley

    Oh, Susan, thank you for your kind comment. I don’t think I am alone in thinking that your work, and your encouragement to so many on SCP is like a sprinkle of gold dust on these sometimes depressing days. I have a space on my bookshelf next to Peter’s well-thumbed anthology that is awaiting yours. You should not be a poor poet. (Maths lessons in Limerick form would be a great poetic challenge by the way) Best wishes to you and Mike.

    Reply
  11. Sally Cook

    Jeff, this evocative poem seems made for a lyric. Thank you for sharing it.

    Reply
    • Jeff Eardley

      And thank you Sally for your kind comment. You are right, it is also a song that I have performed a few times.

      Reply

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