Heather Ale

July 8, 2009

One hundred years after Robert Louis Stephenson’s death
his words tell of a Pictish legend about Heather Ale.

From the bonny bells of heather,
They brewed a drink long-syne.
Was sweeter far than honey,
was stronger far than wine
They brewed it and they drank it,
And lay in blessed swound
For days and days together,
In their dwelling underground.

There rose a King in Scotland,
A fell man to his foe,
He smote the Picts in battles.
He hunted them like roes.
Summer came in the country.
Red was the heather bell:
But the manner of the brewing.
Was none alive to tell.

The King rode and was angry.
Black was his brow and pale
To rule in a land of heather,
and lack the heather ale.
Down by the shore he had them.
And there on the giddy brink –
“I will give you life, ye vermin,
for the secret of the drink.”

Life is dear to the aged,
and honour a little thing
I would gladly sell the secret,
Quoth the Pict to the King
For life is a little matter.
And death is naught to the young

And I dare not sell my honor,
Under the eye of my son.

They took the son and bound him.
And flung him far and strong
And the sea swallowed his body,
like that of a child of ten
And them on the cliff stood the father,
Last of the dwarfish men

True was the word I told you.
Only my son I feared
For I doubt the sapling courage,
That goes without a beard
But now in vain is the torture,
Fire shall never avail
Here dies in my bosom,
The secret of the heather ale…
by Robert Louis Stephenson


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