Day 11 of 12 Days of Christmas: Eleven pipers piping

But he heard high up in the air
A piper piping away,
And never was piping so sad,
And never was piping so gay.
― William Butler Yeats




A similar cumulative verse from Scotland, “The Yule Days”, has been likened to “The Twelve Days of Christmas” in the scholarly literature. It has thirteen days rather than twelve, and the number of gifts does not increase in the manner of “The Twelve Days”. Its final verse, as published in Chambers, Popular Rhymes, Fireside Stories, and Amusements of Scotland (1842), runs as follows:

The king sent his lady on the thirteenth Yule day,
Three stalks o’ merry corn,
Three maids a-merry dancing,
Three hinds a-merry hunting,
An Arabian baboon,
Three swans a-merry swimming,
Three ducks a-merry laying,
A bull that was brown,
Three goldspinks,
Three starlings,
A goose that was grey,
Three plovers,
Three partridges,
A pippin go aye;
Wha learns my carol and carries it away?

“Pippin go aye” (also spelled “papingo-aye” in later editions) is a Scots word for peacock or parrot.


“Les Douze Mois” (“The Twelve Months”) (also known as “La Perdriole”—”The Partridge”) is another similar cumulative verse from France that has been likened to The Twelve Days of Christmas. Its final verse, as published in de Coussemaker, Chants Populaires des Flamands de France (1856), runs as follows:

Le douzièm’ jour d’l’année,Que me donn’rez vous ma mie?
Douze coqs chantants,
Onze plats d’argent,
Dix pigeons blancs,
Neuf bœufs cornus,
Huit vaches mordants,
Sept moulins à vent,
Six chiens courants,
Cinq lapins courant par terre,
Quat’ canards volant en l’air,
Trois rameaux de bois,
Deux tourterelles,
Un’ perdrix sole,
Qui va, qui vient, qui vole,
Qui vole dans les bois.
The twelfth day of the year
What will you give me, my love?
Twelve singing cockerels,
Eleven silver dishes,
Ten white pigeons,
Nine horned oxen,
Eight biting cows,
Seven windmills,
Six running dogs,
Five rabbits running along the ground,
Four ducks flying in the air,
Three wooden branches,
Two turtle doves,
One lone partridge,
Who goes, who comes, who flies,
Who flies in the woods.

According to de Coussemaker, the song was recorded “in the part of [French] Flanders that borders on the Pas de Calais”. Another similar folksong, “Les Dons de l’An”, was recorded in the Cambresis region of France. Its final verse, as published in 1864, runs:

Le douzièm’ mois de l’an,
que donner à ma mie?
Douz’ bons larrons,
Onze bons jambons,
Dix bons dindons,
Neuf bœufs cornus,
Huit moutons tondus,
Sept chiens courants,
Six lièvres aux champs,
Cinq lapins trottant par terre,
Quatre canards volant en l’air,
Trois ramiers de bois,
Deux tourterelles,
Une pertriolle,
Qui vole, et vole, et vole,
Une pertriolle,
Qui vole
Du bois au champ.
The twelfth month of the year
What should I give my love?
Twelve good cheeses,
Eleven good hams,
Ten good turkeycocks,
Nine horned oxen,
Eight sheared sheep,
Seven running dogs,
Six hares in the field,
Five rabbits trotting along the ground,
Four ducks flying in the air,
Three wood pigeons,
Two turtle doves,
One young partridge,
Who flies, who flies, who flies,
One young partridge,
Who flies
From the wood to the field.

Pied Piper of Hamelin (excerpt)— Robert Browning

Once more he stept into the street;

   And to his lips again

Laid his long pipe of smooth straight cane;

   And ere he blew three notes (such sweet

Soft notes as yet musician’s cunning

   Never gave th’enraptured air)

There was a rustling, that seem’d like a bustling

Of merry crowds justling at pitching and hustling,

Small feet were pattering, wooden shoes clattering,

Little hands clapping, and little tongues chattering,

And, like fowls in a farm-yard when barley is scattering,

Out came the children running.

All the little boys and girls,

With rosy cheeks and flaxen curls,

And sparkling eyes and teeth like pearls,

Tripping and skipping, ran merrily after

The wonderful music with shouting and laughter.

The Piper — Joseph Campbell

George Borrow in his Lavengro

Tells us of a Welshman, who

By some excess of mother-wit

Framed a harp and played on it,

Built a ship and sailed to sea,

And steered it home to melody

Of his own making. I, indeed,

Might write for Everyman to read

A thaumalogue of wonderment

More wonderful, but rest content

With celebrating one I knew

Who built his pipes, and played them, too:

No more.

Ah, played! Therein is all:

The hounded thing, the hunter’s call;

The shudder, when the quarry’s breath

Is drowned in blood and stilled in death;

The marriage dance, the pulsing vein,

The kiss that must be given again;

The hope that Ireland, like a rose,

Sees shining thro’ her tale of woes;

The battle lost, the long lament

For blood and spirit vainly spent;

And so on, thro’ the varying scale

Of passion that the western Gael

Knows, and by miracle of art

Draws to the chanter from the heart

Like water from a hidden spring,

To leap or murmur, weep or sing.

I see him now, a little man

In proper black, whey-bearded, wan,

With eyes that scan the eastern hills

Thro’ thick, gold-rimmèd spectacles.

His hand is on the chanter. Lo,

The hidden spring begins to flow

In waves of magic. (He is dead

These seven years, but bend your head

And listen.) Rising from the clay

The Master plays The Ring of Day.

It mounts and falls and floats away

Over the sky-line . . . then is gone

Into the silence of the dawn!

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