This weekend I am off to Edinburgh, and by happy accident that means I am there for Burns night (25th January, birthday of Scottish poet Robert Burns). Being sort of poor and not particularly haggis inclined, I’m not sure that I’ll be making it to Burns Supper, however it is Friday night and I’m up for the party – so I’m sure good times will ensue. As an English Literature graduate celebrating the life of poet is definitely the sort of festivity I can get behind.
To get in the mood for the weekend I have been doing some reading, so here are two poems by Robert Burns:
Epistle to a Young Friend, May 1786
I Lang hae thought, my youthfu’ friend,
A something to have sent you,
Tho’ it should serve nae ither end
Than just a kind memento:
But how the subject-theme may gang,
Let time and chance determine;
Perhaps it may turn out a sang:
Perhaps turn out a sermon.
Ye’ll try the world soon, my lad;
And, Andrew dear, believe me,
Ye’ll find mankind an unco squad,
And muckle they may grieve ye:
For care and trouble set your thought,
Ev’n when your end’s attained;
And a’ your views may come to nought,
Where ev’ry nerve is strained.
I’ll no say, men are villains a’;
The real, harden’d wicked,
Wha hae nae check but human law,
Are to a few restricked;
But, Och! mankind are unco weak,
An’ little to be trusted;
If self the wavering balance shake,
It’s rarely right adjusted!
Yet they wha fa’ in fortune’s strife,
Their fate we shouldna censure;
For still, th’ important end of life
They equally may answer;
A man may hae an honest heart,
Tho’ poortith hourly stare him;
A man may tak a neibor’s part,
Yet hae nae cash to spare him.
Aye free, aff-han’, your story tell,
When wi’ a bosom crony;
But still keep something to yoursel’,
Ye scarcely tell to ony:
Conceal yoursel’ as weel’s ye can
Frae critical dissection;
But keek thro’ ev’ry other man,
Wi’ sharpen’d, sly inspection.
The sacred lowe o’ weel-plac’d love,
Luxuriantly indulge it;
But never tempt th’ illicit rove,
Tho’ naething should divulge it:
I waive the quantum o’ the sin,
The hazard of concealing;
But, Och! it hardens a’ within,
And petrifies the feeling!
To catch Dame Fortune’s golden smile,
Assiduous wait upon her;
And gather gear by ev’ry wile
That’s justified by honour;
Not for to hide it in a hedge,
Nor for a train attendant;
But for the glorious privilege
Of being independent.
The fear o’ hell’s a hangman’s whip,
To haud the wretch in order;
But where ye feel your honour grip,
Let that aye be your border;
Its slightest touches, instant pause-
Debar a’ side-pretences;
And resolutely keep its laws,
The great Creator to revere,
Must sure become the creature;
But still the preaching cant forbear,
And ev’n the rigid feature:
Yet ne’er with wits profane to range,
Be complaisance extended;
An atheist-laugh’s a poor exchange
For Deity offended!
When ranting round in pleasure’s ring,
Religion may be blinded;
Or if she gie a random sting,
It may be little minded;
But when on life we’re tempest driv’n-
A conscience but a canker-
A correspondence fix’d wi’ Heav’n,
Is sure a noble anchor!
Adieu, dear, amiable youth!
Your heart can ne’er be wanting!
May prudence, fortitude, and truth,
Erect your brow undaunting!
In ploughman phrase, “God send you speed,”
Still daily to grow wiser;
And may ye better reck the rede,
Then ever did th’ adviser!
To a Louse, 1785
Ha! whaur ye gaun, ye crowlin ferlie?
Your impudence protects you sairly;
I canna say but ye strunt rarely,
Owre gauze and lace;
Tho’, faith! I fear ye dine but sparely
On sic a place.
Ye ugly, creepin, blastit wonner,
Detested, shunn’d by saunt an’ sinner,
How daur ye set your fit upon her –
Sae fine a lady?
Gae somewhere else and seek your dinner
On some poor body.
Swith! in some beggar’s haffet squattle;
There ye may creep, and sprawl, and sprattle,
Wi’ ither kindred, jumping cattle,
In shoals and nations;
Whaur horn nor bane ne’er daur unsettle
Your thick plantations.
Now haud you there, ye’re out o’ sight,
Below the fatt’rels, snug and tight;
Na, faith ye yet! ye’ll no be right,
Till ye’ve got on it –
The verra tapmost, tow’rin height
O’ Miss’ bonnet.
My sooth! right bauld ye set your nose out,
As plump an’ grey as ony groset:
O for some rank, mercurial rozet,
Or fell, red smeddum,
I’d gie you sic a hearty dose o’t,
Wad dress your droddum.
I wad na been surpris’d to spy
You on an auld wife’s flainen toy;
Or aiblins some bit dubbie boy,
But Miss’ fine Lunardi! fye!
How daur ye do’t?
O Jenny, dinna toss your head,
An’ set your beauties a’ abread!
Ye little ken what cursed speed
The blastie’s makin:
Thae winks an’ finger-ends, I dread,
Are notice takin.
O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
An’ ev’n devotion!