He learned to play when he was young,
But all the tune that he could play
Was over the hills and far away.
Over the hills and a great way off
The wind shall blow my top-knot off.
Why is it that some verses burrow through your skin straight to your heart and never quite let you go?
I can come up with several reasons why this one got hold of me from an early age: first, because I wanted very much to know exactly what sort of a pipe Tom played; second, because I couldn't imagine how anyone could only ever learn to play one tune (and that really quite a hard one); third, the faint worry that my hair might be torn off my head on a really windy day; and, fourthly and most importantly, there's that refrain, over the hills and far away.
Oh, how I longed as a child to go over the hills and far away.
I wasn't the only one to fall under its spell in that way, either. Tom He Was A Piper's Son was used as an army recruiting song at the beginning of the 1700s, when many young men were lured over the hills and far away to fight for the Duke of Marlborough.
I expect they went with merry hearts.
No one was very interested in how they came back. So there aren't many songs about that.
Word To Use Today: pipe. This word comes from the Old English pīpe, and before that from the Latin pīpāre, to chirp.