Category Archives: Burns

THE BALLAD OF RABBIE BURNS

INTRODUCTION

___________________

 There has been one individual in particular who has epitomised the Scottish character to the fullest, a rustic 18th century poet called Robert, or Rabbie Burns. Quick-witted & proudly independent, his biography seems to mirror the Scottish nations, where moments of blinding brilliance were interlaced with disasters. A lover of maiden-laden festivities & braw Scotch drink, Burns lived a life of great energy & – most of all – poetry. He was a Scot singing to Scots, & ever since his demise in Dumfries, 1796, at the tender ages of 37, the most celebrated Scot of them all. It was in the year of his quarter-millennial homecoming, & 250 years after his birth (2009) that I first began to really get Burns.

I first encountered the ghost of Burns at one of his famous memorial suppers in the village of Terregels, near Dumfries. On that occasion I also fell for the ‘Haggis is a three-legged animal of the highlands’ joke – I swear down, so much was my ignorance at that time of the Scottish culture. At first oor bardies’ native Scottish twang had been rather impenetrable to me, but after five years residence in Scotland I finally began to understand his mind-sweep. Burns is a true legend, a true poet, & a true Scot, & it is with great pleasure that I went about creating a lyrical history of the man, using the six-lined Standard Hubbie form made popular by Burns himself. To these stanzas are attached several letters & accoutrements to flesh out the biography for the reader.

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L’Amfiparnasso

There is not among all the martyrologies
That ever were penn’d,
So rueful a narrative as the lives of the poets
Robert Burns

*

Yo! Rabbie Burns, tho’ gone ye be,
Old Scotland still remembers thee,
For she loves native poetry,
That blooms abed;
Salt tears still fall fresh frae her ee
For Rabbie dead.

His candle burns a deathless flame
For poesy’s glory & his fame,
His works th’immortal guerdons claim,
His hard-earn’d due;
Whilst rolling centuries his name
E’er shall renew!

*

Where Ganga rolls her yellow tide,
Where Amazon’s green waters glide,
Kind Scotia’s kin, spread far & wide
Shall oft rehearse
Their native soul’s immortal guide,
Bewitching verse!

*

One Supper, in the modern day,
Jock Rome drives down from Irongray
To fair Terregels, kilted, gay,
To chair the bout;
Where pipes & song & clapping bray
The haggis out!

*

Jock took his knife with rustic might,
“I’ll cut you up wi’ ready slight,
Treaching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
& then, O what a glorious sight
Warm-reekin’ rich!”

*

The meal wash’d down with whiskey glasses,
Toasts from the lads & from the lasses,
Sweet Selkirk Graces rise like masses,
In sangs & clatter,
While swigging banter puffs & passes
In happy patter.

*

To drunkenness the Supper swung
& Rabbie’s stirring songs are sung,
Words tripping frisky from the tongue
Like birds in flight;
Harmonious, as old & young
All share the rite.

*

Aye, all of us, some New Year’s Eve,
Have cross’d our arms a ring to weave
& sang a song that all believe,
Swings true & fine;
A bardie’s heart with pride would heave
Through Auld Langs Eyne.

*

So merry friends, lets raise a toast
& praise the gleam of Rabbie’s ghost,
Whose spirit here our hearts shall toast,
Stood hand-in-hand,
For he’s the laddie loved the most
In all Scotland!

Duan 1

I never had the least thought or inclination of turning poet til I once got heartily in love, & then the rhyme & song were, in a manner the spontaneous language of my head
Robert Burns

*

Of poesy & her best of men
I sing, a name that maist must ken,
Its notes still sound through street & glen,
From fame’s flaught horn;
What years are flown, twelve score & ten,
Since Burns was born.

*

His father toiled thro’ snow & sun,
Crafting an marvellous garden,
Grafting for friendly gentlemen,
Of small estate,
Whose first born, Rab, tho’ poor man’s son,
Was rich in fate.

*

Whose daddie hail’d from Aberdeen,
A handsome laddie, wise & lean,
Who’d marry him a harvest queen
From fair old Ayr;
These soon sired six more siblings mean,
Rab’s bed to share.

*

They settl’d by the gentle Doon,
With kettle-happy Granma’ Broun,
Who whistl’d muckle lip-suck’d tune
While cooking neeps,
Or mutter’d tayles neath bright’ning moon
To frighten sleeps.

*

She spoke of elfcandles, spunkies,
Of witches, warlocks, wraiths, kelpies,
Of dragons, giants & brownies,
From realms faerie;
Such wyrd & wondrous trumperies
Fuell’d Rab’s fancy

*

His mind was as the green, young corn
That grows before the golden dawn,
But as Burns was a poet born,
Of no mean clout,
Like Venus in the puff of morn
His stalk stood out.

*

His father was a Jacobite,
Who said, “Good men will always fight
For what they feel is wrong & right,
Wheth’e’er they died!”
Whetting a poets appetite
For native pride.

*

As vernal Burns PATRIOT is
The Blacksmith who shod his horses
Lends him a book on WALLACE’s
Triumphs & pains,
Pouring SCOTTISH prejudices
Down boiling veins.

*

The merry muses have their way;
But not Edina, grand & grey,
Nor Glasgow or green Galloway
Can this bard claim,
First wee & airy Alloway
Felt Rabbie’s fame.

*

Dalrymple school would always tell
As soon as Burns could amaist spell
He to the crambo-jingle fell
Tho’ rough & rude;
The Scottish muse, that crooning belle,
In him renewed.

*

But written down! No, not a jot,
A poet drown’d in his life’s lot,
Chain’d to the daily porridge pot,
Ne’er knowing meat,
When only ma’s thick broth (& hot),
He loved to eat.

*

Now foregether’d with family
They’ll share old sangs & poetry,
Or snippet thro’ old history
From Bruce to Rome;
For Burns was bless’d wi,’ luckily,
A braw Scotch home!

*

Rab soon absorbs his ain zeitgeist,
Learns of the goods ilk cotter priced,
Reads Grecian gods & Jesus Christ,
Kens ailments sair;
But not yet how hearts crush’d & sliced
By maiden’s fair.

*

At last the laddie turns sixteen
At harvest coupling, when his e’en
Was fill’d with fairest country queen,
One autumn less;
She was the fairest he had seen
In dance & dress.

*

As lassie chimes with such sweet feel,
Rab’s blurring heart did wrack & wheel,
His mind riming to every reel
With spangling pang,
From whence his soul began to deal
In sense & sang.

*

It fell upon a Lammas night
When he first saw a breast fair white,
Rous’d up a lusty appetite
‘Mang barley rigs,
Of how to squeeze & tease & bite
& squeal like pigs.

*

Soon Rabbie’s loins were running free
Leddie Peggy… dour-faced Maisie…
Fancy Jenny… easy Sophie…
Enjoy’d his charms,
While Lochiel’s maid, long-lash’d Lizzie,
Adores his arms.

*

By day Lizzie was sweet as brandy,
But in moonlight turn’d rough & randy,
Loving a tongue-lash’d houghmagandie
With her young Burns;
Aye, both of them abed were handy
& both took turns.

*

As Rab stroked her c, u, n, t,
Kiss’d slender neckline tenderly,
Twyx legs of taper white, gently,
Thrust lust upon her,
Not knowing his horn of plenty
Would win dishonour.

*

When not petting his Liz Patton
Burns met with Gavin Hamilton,
John Lapraik, William Simpson
& Davie Sillar;
Harum, scarum, ram-stam brethren
Wild as Atilla!

*

Fame spreading wildfire round Ayrshire
For these fine friends Burns turns makar,
Impresses teacher, priest, scholar
With his fine rhymes;
Them Elijah, him Elisha,
Ploughing the limes.

*

Now Rabbie’s handsomeness appears
Collossal in man’s college years,
But working off his rent arrears,
Not stuck at school;
Debating, with his knowledge-peers,
Life’s every rule.

*

On Fridays Rabbie would address
The local masons, maist did guess
He was a poet, more or less,
With vocal vision;
So show’d him Ayr’s first printing press
To fire ambition.

*

Rab went to many market days
To study mankind & its ways,
Observing all life’s little plays,
His eyes & hair,
Admiring, young lassies, amaze,
From fair to fair.

*

His broad shoulders made foreheads hot,
His flashing glance defences shot
& plaided in fine fillemot
Rab seem’d a prince;
No better man had Ayrshire got,
Nor ever since.

*

But being born in poverty
He felt his fate destined to be
Just hard work & obscurity
In rural climes;
But every day what poetry
Fill’d up his rhymes!

*

Has Allan risen from the deid,
Or Fergusson repluck’d his reed,
As by the muses them decreed
To grace the thistle;
Nah, Rabbie Burns has come instead
To Blaw the Whistle!

Letter 1

Letter I  : TO MISS —-, AYRSHIRE (1785)

MY DEAR COUNTRYWOMAN,

I am so impatient to show you that I am once more at peace with you, that I send you the book I mentioned, directly, rather than wait the uncertain time of my seeing you. I am afraid I have mislaid or lost Collins’s Poems, which I promised to Miss Irvin. If I can find them I will forward them by you; if not, you must apologise for me.

I know you will laugh at it when I tell you that your piano and you together have played the deuce somehow about my heart. My breast has been widowed these many months, and I thought myself proof against the fascinating witchcraft; but I am afraid you will “feelingly convince me what I am.”. I say, I am afraid, because I am not sure what is the matter with me. I have one miserable bad symptom,–when you whisper, or look kindly to another, it gives me a draught of damnation. I have a kind of wayward wish to be with you ten minutes by yourself, though what I would say, Heaven above knows, for I am sure I know not. I have no formed design in all this; but just, in the nakedness of my heart, write you down a mere matter-of-fact story. You may perhaps give yourself airs of distance on this, and that will completely cure me; but I wish you would not; just let us meet, if you please, in the old beaten way of friendship.

I will not subscribe myself your humble servant, for that is a phrase, I think, at least fifty miles off from the heart; but I will conclude with sincerely wishing that the Great Protector of innocence may shield you from the barbed dart of calumny, and hand you by the covert snare of deceit. R. B

Accoutrement I

My first ambition was, & still my strongest wish is, to please my compeers, the rustic inmates of the hamlet

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BLACKWOOD’S MAGAZINE (Vol 4:1819)

Scotland has better reason to be proud of her peasant poets than any other country in the world. She possesses a rich treasure of poetry, expressing the moral character of her population at very remote times; and in her national lyrics alone, so full of tenderness and truth, the heart of a simple, and wise, and thoughtful people is embalmed to us in imperishable beauty. If we knew nothing of the forefathers of our Scottish hamlets, but the pure and affectionate songs and ballads, the wild and pathetic airs of music which they loved, we should know enough to convince us that they were a race of men strong, healthful, happy, and dignified in the genial spirit of nature. The lower orders of the Scotch seem always to have had deeper, calmer, purer, and more reflecting affections than those of any other people, — and at the same time they have possessed, and do still possess, an imagination that broods over these affections with a constant delight, and kindles them into a strength and power, which, when brought into action by domestic or national trouble, have often been in good truth sublime.

Whatever may have been the causes of this fine character in more remote times, it seems certain, that since the Reformation it is to be attributed chiefly to the spirit of their religion. That spirit is pervading and profound; it blends intimately with all the relations of life, and gives a quiet and settled permanency to feelings, which, among a population uninspired by an habitual reverence for high and holy things, are little better than uncertain, fluctuating, and transitory impulses of temperament. It is thus that there is something sacred and sublime in the tranquillity of a Scottish cottage. The sabbath day seems to extend its influence over all the week. The Bible lies from week’s end to week’s end before the eyes of all the inmates of the house. The language of scripture is so familiar to the minds of the peasantry, that it is often adopted unconsciously in the conversation of common hours. In short, all the forms, modes, shows of life, are in a great measure either moulded or coloured by religion.

All enlightened foreigners have been impressed with a sense of the grandeur of such a national character, but they have failed in attributing it to the true cause. The bless ings of education have been widely diffused over Scotland, and the parish schools have conferred upon her inestimable benefits. But there is such simplicity and depth of moral feeling and affection in her peasantry; such power over the more agitating and tumultuous passions, which, without weakening their lawful energies, controls and subdues their rebellious excitement; there is an imagination so purely and loftily exercised over the objects of their human love, that we must look for the origin of such a character to a far higher source than the mere culture of the mind by means of a rational and widely extended system of education. It is the habitual faith of the peasantry of this happy land “that has made them whole.” The undecaying sanctities of religion have, like unseen household gods, kept watcli by their hearth sides, from generation to generation, and their belief in the Bible is connected with all that is holiest and dearest in filial and paternal love. A common piece of wood, the meanest article of household furniture, is prized when it is a relic of one tenderly beloved; but the peasant of Scotland has a relic of departed affection that lifts his nature up to Heaven, when he takes into his reverential hands; ‘The big ha’ Bible, ance his father’s pride.’

None who have enjoyed the happiness and the benefit of an intimate knowledge of the peasantry of Scotland will think this picture of their character overdrawn or exaggerated. We are not speaking of ideal things, but of men marked in eeven in their best state with many defects, frailties, errors & vices; but that the Scotch are a devout people, one day wisely passed in Scotland should cary conviction to a stranger’s heart; and when it is considered how many noble & elevating feelings are included within the virtue of devotion, unfearing faith, submission, reverence, calm content, & unshaken love, we acknowledge that a people who emphatically speaking fear God, must possess within themselves the elements of all human virtue, happiness & wisdom, however much these may be occsionally wealened or polluted by the mournful necessities of life, grief, ignorance, hard labour, penury & disease. If religion is most beautiful & lovely in the young, the happy & the innocent, we must yet look for the consummation of its sublimity, in the old, the repentant, & the resigned; & both may be seen; In some small kirk, upon its sunny brae, When Scotland lies asleep on the still sabbath day.

The Scottish  peasantry are poetical, therefore, because they are religious: a heart that habitually cherishes religion feelings, cannot abide the thought of pure affections & pure delights utterly passing away. It would fain give a permanent existence to the fleeting shadows of earthly happiness. Its dreams are of heaven & eternity, & such dreams reflect back a hallowed light on earth & on time

Duan 2

I seem to be one sent into the world to see, & observe… the joy of my heart is to ‘study men & their manners, & their ways.’
Robert Burns

*

Bless Rabbie’s sparks of nature’s fire,
All twas the learning he’d desire
& tho’ he drudg’d thro dub & mire
With ploughs & carts,
His muse, tho’ hamely in attire
Touch’d people’s hearts.

*

He wove his rhymes through thankless work,
Or blanking out the Sunday kirk,
Or in romantic woodland walk
By Aire & Doon;
His style; fourth verse, fourth prose, fourth talk,
Fourth lover’s croon.

*

Tho’ Rab thought sex a shared sensation
The kirk thought it more molestation,
& black sack-cloth’d his reputation,
All tash’d & slarried;
A guinea-fine’s humiliation
For lust unmarried.

*

In hot revenge Rab mused a prayer
Against the Presbytry of Ayr,
“Lord take thy hand & strike it bare
Upon their heids!
Lord visit them, & dinna spare
For their misdeeds!”

*

This little piece soon spread wildfire
From kirk-to-kirk, from choir-to-choir,
But no-one guess’d whose lilting lyre
Dares to redress;
Filling the kirk with irk & ire,
Anonymous.

*

When Lizzie bore a wailing nappy
She was too poor to keep her happy,
So ‘dear-bought Bess’ moves in with pappy
On Mossgeil farm;
His buttock hire, all suck & crappy,
Tuck’d in his arm.

*

“Welcome! My bonie, sweet wee dochter
Tho ye come here a wee unsought for
& tho your comin I hae fought for
Baith kirk & queer;
Yet by my faith ye’re no unwrought for
That I shall swear!”

*

Tis said all poets need a muse
To lead their souls to finer views
Of love & life, so they can lose
Dull minds in beauty;
Far prettier than psalmic pews
On solemn duty.

*

Now Rabbie with a lass does clash,
His wee dog cross her wash does dash,
On them did CUPID lightning flash
For young amour;
Pretending not to gie ane fash
This both ignore.

*

They met again that Halloween,
“Hello, I’m Rab,” “Hello, I’m Jean,”
The loveliest in all Mauchline,
Leggy gazelle;
With tempting lips & rougish een
& breasted well!

*

At first Rab thought her wee young thing,
But then he heard an angel sing,
Watching her nimble, sma’ feet spring
To beat & fiddle,
So up he join’d her in a fling,
Arms flung a-middle.

*

Rab woos his Jean with course romance,
Delighted by his staggish dance,
Excited by his countenance,
& dark complexion;
When clapping snapp’d the cailedh-trance
Lips made connection

*

Meeting in secret from her pa
Jean fell for Rabbie’s gabby star,
Whose fingers shynesses unbar,
Her heart to win;
So she lay down, long legs aspar,
& let love in.

*

As rubbers Rabbie rarely used
Jean’s bump her da’ soon unamused,
Whose brulzie face point-blank refused
Jean for a wife;
Rab left the Armour’s most confused,
& curs’d his life.

*

As nurses he his broken heart
By heaping up the harvest cart,
He saw his sharp plough rip apart
Some nested house;
Where, on the spot, a rhyme did start
For this wee mouse.

*

“I’m truly sorry man’s dominion
Has broken nature’s social union
An justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-bound companion
An’ fellow mortal.”

*

Deem them touching moments as these
To haul sad poets off their knees,
Rab knew he must speed overseas
By western sail,
Else stay & pay his baby fees
Or rot in jail.

*

Rab’s fame has spread beyond his Ayr,
The time is ripe his verse to share,
Gaining subscriptions everywhere
& plaudits too,
For folk shall always be aware
Of poets true.

*

While editing his first edition
Rabbie blanks Jeanie’s pa’s decision
By drinking himself to derision
&, when frisky,
Frigs any pig, blaming his vision
On strong whiskey.

*

‘Hic-cup’ Rab fell on tavern floor,
Then stood up with a cavern roar,
“I, Rabbie Burns, leave Scotia’s shore
To see Jamaica,
But first I’ll find a local whore
& west I’ll take her!”

*

He swiftly found his fair Mary,
A maiden from the high kintry,
Wooing her to complicity
With charming plans;
“Let’s share the New World’s liberty
With Scotland’s clans,”

*

It was the second May Sunday
When Mary said she’d ‘go away’
With Rab, upon that happy day
Their love boat sails;
Her petticoat up as they play
At heads & tails.

*

Again the houghmagandie pack,
Like holy beagles at his back,
Produced the stool & sack-cloth black
Of fornication;
For Jeanie wore a six-month stack
Of procreation.

*

From Kilmarnock came a letter
“Your work’s ready,” wrote his printer
“As publisher & editor,
You’ve quite a book!”
Delivered by its proud writer
To every nook.

*

Rab rides on madly in a dash,
Thro’ thunderplomp & levin flash,
From house-to-house, collecting cash
For his ship’s berth’
While Mr Armour’s greed did gnash
At his book’s worth.

*

With warrants out for his arrest,
He heard his lass was double blest,
A boy & girl upon each breast
Call’d Rab & Jean;
So raced he to that happy chest,
Suckling serene.

*

His soulwoman, with their offspring,
Commenc’d his resolves softening,
But still determined west to wing
In Mary’s arms,
He, with one last kiss lingering,
Left Jeanie’s charms.

Letter 2

Letter II: TO JOHN RICHMOND, EDINBURGH

My Dear Richmond, my hour is now come… you and I will never meet in Britain more. I have orders, within three weeks at farthest, to repair aboard the Nancy, Captain Smith, from Clyde to Jamaica, and to call at Antigua. This, except to our friend Smith, whom God long preserve, is a secret about Mauchline. Would you believe it? Armour has got a warrant to throw me in jail till I find security I got it by a channel tliey little dream of; and I am wandering from one friend’s house to another, and like a true son of the gospel, ” have nowhere to lay my head.” I know you will pour an execration on her head, but spare the poor, ill-advised girl, for my sake; though, may all the furies that rend the injured, enraged lover’s bosom, await her mother until her latest hour! I write in a promoting my subscription, and still more for your very fiendly letter. The first was doing me a fovour, but the last was doing me an honour. I am in such a bustle at present, preparing for my West India voyage ” as I expect a letter every day from the master of the vessel, to repair directly to Greenock ” tliat I am under a necessity to return you the subscription bills, and trouble you with the quantum of copies till called for, or otherwise transmitted to the gentlemen who have subscribed. Mr. Bruce for an enormous sum. This they keep an entire secret, butr moment of rage, reflecting on my miserable situation ” exiled, abandoned, forlorn. I can write no more ” let me hear from you by the return of coach. I will write you send you twenty copies more. If any of the gentlemen are supplied from any other quarter, ’tis no matter; the ere I go, I am, dear Sir, yours here and hereafter, R. B.

Accoutrement II

My passions, when once lighted up, raged like so many devils, til they got vent in rhyme, & then the conning over my verses, like a spell, soothed all into quiet
Robert Burns

Burns’s Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect — The ‘Kilmarnock Edition’ — was published by John Wilson of Kilmarnock on 31st July 1786, at the cost of three shillings per copy. 612 copies were printed and the edition was sold out in just over a month after publication. The following two reviews of the volume were published not long after the book came out

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Dr Robert Anderson, The Edinburgh Magazine

October 1786

When an author we know nothing of solicits our attention, we are but too solicits our attention, we are but too apt to treat him with the same reluctant civility we show a person who has come unbidden into company. Yet talents and address will gradually diminish the distance of our behaviour, and when the first unfavourable impression has worn off, the author may become a favourite, and the stranger a friend. The poems we have just announced may probably have to struggle with the pride of learning and the partiaity of refinement; yet they are entitled t particular of refinement; yet they are entitled to particular indulgence. Who are you, Mr Burns? Will some surly critic say; at what university have you been educated? What languages do you understand? What authors have you particularly studied? Whether has Aristotle or Horace directed your taste? Who has praised your poems, and under whose patronage are they published? In short, what qualifications entitle you to instruct or entertain us? To the questions of such a catechism, perhaps, honest Robert Burns would make no satisfactory answer. My good sir, he might say, I am a poor country man. I was bred up at the School of Kilmarnock, I understand no languages but my own.i have studied Allan Ramsay and Fergusson. My poems have been praised at many a fireside, and I ask no patronage for them if they deserve none. I have not looked at mankind through the spectacles of books! “An ounce of mother with you know is worth a pound of clergy”, and Homer and Ossian, for anything that I have heard, could neither read nor write. The author is indeed a striking example of native genius bursting throughh the obscurity of poverty and the obstructions of laborious life, and when we consider him in this light, we cannot help regretting that wayward fate has not placed him in a more favoured situation. Those who view him with the severity of lettered criticism, and judge him by the fastidious rules of art, will discover that he has not the doric simplicity of Ramsay, or the brilliant imgination of Fergusson, but those who admire the exertions of untutored fancy, and are blind to many faults for the sake of numberless beauties, his poems will afford singular gratification. His observations on human characters are acute and sagacious, and his descriptions are lively and just. Of rustic peasantry he has a rich fund, and some of his softer scenes are touched with inimitable delicacy. He seems to be a boon companion, and often startles us with a dash of libertinism which will keep some readers at a distance. Some of his subjects are serious, but those of the humorous kind are the best. It is not meant, however, to enter into a minute investigation of his merits, as the copious extracts we have subjoined will enable our readers to judge for themselves. The character Horace gives to Ofellus is particularly applicable to him: ‘Rusticus abnormis sapiens, crassaque Minerva”.

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The New London Magazine (December 1786)

We do not recollect to have ever met with a more signal instance of true and uncultivated genius than in the author of these poems. His occupation is that of a common ploughman, and his life has hitherto been spent in struggling with poverty. But all the rigours of fortune have not been able to repress the frequent efforts of his lively and vigorous imagination. Some of these poems are of a serious cast, but the strain which seems most natural to the author is the sportive and humorous. It is to be regretted that the Scottish Dialect, in which these poems are written, must obscure the native beauties with which they appear to abound and renders the same unintelligible to an English reader. Should it, however, prove true that the author has been taken under the patronage of a great lady in Scotland, and that a celebrated Professor has interested himself in the cultivation of his talents, there is reason to hope that his distinguished genius may yet be exerted in such a manner as to afford more generous delight. In the meantime we must admire the genuine enthusiasm of his untutored muse, and bestow the tribute of just applause on one whose name will be transmitted to posterity with honour.

Duan III

There is scarcely anything to which I am so feelingly alive as the honour & welfare of old Scotia; &, as a poet, I have no higher enjoyment than singing her songs & daughters
Robert Burns

*

As Rab for Greenock dock he did ride
A message broke his manly pride
“Young Mary has from fever died,”
Rab wails his woe;
Then sigh’d, when dewy tear ducts dried,
“I still shall go”

*

As on the road fear fill’d his heid
For his fair Mary now was deid,
Pa Armour barring calm & plead,
There came a letter;
“The Embro gentry’s all agreed
Nae Bardie’s better”

*

As high classes & low masses
Revel’d in Rab’s geniuses,
Vernal ploughman from Parnassus
Turn’d round his mare
For the land’s loveliest lasses,
In lions’ lair.

*

Rab Bursting from the Pentland Hills
Did feel a thousand rousing thrills,
As clouds high Heaven’s light distills
On Scotia’s seats,
Where Canonsgate to Canonmills
Rose handsome streets.

*

They loved his love of liberty,
His heartfelt sensitivity,
His vivida vis animi,
His respect for hosts,
His Scotch sentimentality,
His Haggis toasts.

*

‘Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.’

*

When some old cad tried to make sense
Of his low birth, Rab spat defence,
“Ah have to learning no pretence,
Yet, what the matter?
Whene’er my muse does on me glance
I jingle at her!”

*

As Rabbie’s star was rising sun,
All of the girls would gie him one,
From Muckspreaders in Lothian
To local belles;
When maids, like Peggy Cameron,
His ego swells.

*

Now higher Rabbie’s star rising
Thro’ literati glittering,
Far from a drumock’s curmurring
His voice sublime
Distills though readers murmuring
His fresh-wrought rhyme.

*

Conjoining in this celebration
The Masons from his ain proud nation
Gave him such a standing ovation
The lodge roof shook,
Granting grand civic elevation
For one wee book.

*

Och, what a book, a great success,
Brings pounds to poet & his press,
Enough for Rabbie to redress
Fergusson’s bones;
His brother bardie’s grave did bless
With nobler stones.

*

Now like most poets when them flush
Rab drank his mind to meadie mush,
Pick’d up a taste for brothel bush
From Leith to town,
A vicar watch’d his mojo rush
& stared him down.

*

‘O Rab! Lay by thy foolish tricks
An’ steer nae mair the female sex
Or some day ye’ll come through the pricks
An that ye’ll see;
Ye’ll find hard living wi Auld Nicks
I’m wae for thee.’

*

As Rab restuffs the bottle’s cork
He walks doon fate’s road’s favour’d fork,
London, Dublin, even New York
All feel his fame;
The toast of global table-talk
In Alba’s name.

*
From Edina’s hurly-burly
Rab took leave with his mate Ainslee,
Sat astride his ain nag Jenny
On open road;
Drinking late & rising early
From ports they moor’d

They drove through Lammermuir’s dreich dream
Yon Berrywell, down to Coldstream,
Old England lay beyond the breme
& there he spat
His brash revulsion, to redeem
He donn’d his hat.

*

Rab sang, “O Scotia’s native soil
Long may your sons of rustic toil
With crowns corrupt never embroil
& virtue cry
& tyrannous endeavours foil
Til seas gang dry.”

*

He saw the holly at Roxburgh
& won the freedom of Jedburgh
& tour’d the ruins of Dryburgh
As poets do;
Gabbing his tayles of Edinburgh
Oer rabbit stew.

*

They search’d Selkirk by candlestick
For its fine inn where smoke rose thick,
How soon the news spread rampant quick
“Our Rabbie’s here;”
Where in James Hogg, Bard of Ettrick
He found a peer.

*

They left next morn, hungover, gaunt
& carried on their merry jaunt,
From town-to-town, from haunt-to-haunt,
From coast-to-coast,
Rab’s star had he no need to flaunt,
Nor cause to boast.

*

When Rabbie saw towns like Dumfries,
His mere presence broke social peace –
He liked the air, the Nith did please,
His muse there went,
Meets Patrick Millar to release
Ellisland’s rent.

*

To Dumfries a short letter sent,
“Your Peggy Cameron’s pregnant”
& tho’ he swore him innocent –
The dates did clash –
As he was sic an honest gent
He sent her cash.

*

As on his Jean Rab nervous calls
The starstruck Armour’s carpet falls,
Finds fresh herring & butter’d rolls
Where once all vicious;
Found freedom to be with his soul’s
Armful delicious.

*

They play’d & pass’d each giggling twin
Until that look of lust did win
Another night of carnal sin
In soft haypile;
A bellyful of seed sent in
& her… fertile.

*

Leaving his Jean to tend their stock
Rab headed north by crag & loch
Saw antler’d stag & shaggy flock
Of haelan cows
Where vicious cleg & soggy sock
His roamings douse.

*

Now with their grand tour well in wake,
As glass of ale does Ainslee take,
Rab danced with maidens on the make
In rampant Caleigh,
Then watch’d dawn over Lomond break
In god-sent glory.

*

Back to Embro these brothers came,
But fickle are the flames of fame,
Rab has been shunted from the game
Of bourgeoisie;
Being stigmatic with the shame
Of peasantry.

Letter 3

Letter 3 : PATRICK MILLER, DALSWINTON

SIR,—I was spending a few days at Sir William Murray’s, Ochtertyre, and did not get your obliging letter till to-day I came to town. I was still more unlucky in catching a miserable cold, for which the medical gentlemen have ordered me into close confinement under pain of death—the severest of penalties. In two or three days, if I get better, and if I hear at your lodgings that you are still at Dalswinton, I will take a ride to Dumfries directly. From something in your last, I would wish to explain my idea of being your tenant. I want to be a farmer in a small farm, about a plough-gang, in a pleasant country, under the auspices of a good landlord. I have no foolish notion of being a tenant on easier terms than another. To find a farm where one can live at all is not easy—I only mean living soberly, like an old-style farmer, and joining personal industry. The banks of the Nith are as sweet poetic ground as any I ever saw; and besides, Sir, ’tis but justice to the feelings of my own heart and the opinion of my best friends, to say that I would wish to call you landlord sooner than any landed gentleman I know. These are my views and wishes; and in whatever way you think best to lay out your farms I shall be happy to rent one of them. I shall certainly be able to ride to Dalswinton about the middle of next week, if I hear that you are not gone.—I have the honour to be, Sir, your obliged humble servant,

ROBERT BURNS.

EDINBURGH, 20th Oct., 1787.