This song is a reference to the poem “The Banks O’ Doon” by Robert Burns (1791). The river Doon crosses near Burns’ hometown of Ayr, but the context behind the poem is actually from the story of Margaret “Peggy” Kennedy. Peggy was a 17 year-old girl betrothed to a Member of Parliament, yet she had an affair with Captain McDouall, the Laird of Logan, and gave birth to his child. McDouall rejected his child, but 10 years later Peggy sued to recognize the child’s legitimacy. She died before the legal proceedings concluded, but the case was won and the child awarded £3000.
The poem is about the dichotomy between the beautiful, natural world without cares or worries, and the speaker of the poem who’s full of their own cares and worries because their love has been untrue. Though one may be burdened with sorrow, nature moves along.
Ye banks and braes o’ bonie Doon,
How can ye bloom sae fresh and fair?
How can ye chant, ye little birds,
And I sae weary fu’ o’ care!
Thou’ll break my heart, thou warbling bird,
That wantons thro’ the flowering thorn:
Thou minds me o’ departed joys,
Departed never to return.
Aft hae I rov’d by Bonie Doon,
To see the rose and woodbine twine:
And ilka bird sang o’ its Luve,
And fondly sae did I o’ mine;
Wi’ lightsome heart I pu’d a rose,
Fu’ sweet upon its thorny tree!
And may fause Luver staw my rose,
But ah! he left the thorn wi’ me.
– Robert Burns, “The Banks O’ Doon” (1791)