Happy Burns Night!

‘Never mind about the poet Burns.’
‘No, sir.’
‘Forget the poet Burns.’
‘Very good, sir.’
‘Expunge the poet Burns from your mind.’
‘I will do so immediately, sir.’

Tonight, to celebrate Robert Burns, we neither had haggis or Scotch whiskey. I did read a couple of Burns’ poems to my less-than-pleased wife, who may or may not have been listening. In honor of that great poet, here’s a poem. I chose it not because it’s my favorite, but because it’s the first of his once I actually decided to read his poems:

The Twa Dogs: A Tale

‘Twas in that place o’ Scotland’s isle,
That bears the name o’ auld King Coil,
Upon a bonnie day in June,
When wearin’ thro’ the afternoon,
Twa dogs, that were na thrang at hame,
Forgather’d ance upon a time.

The first I’ll name, they ca’d him Caesar,
Was keepit for ‘his Honor’s’ pleasure:
His hair, his size, his mouth, his lugs,
Shew’d he was nane o’ Scotland’s dogs;
But whalpit some place far abroad,
Whare sailors gang to fish for cod.

His locked, letter’d, braw brass collar
Shew’d him the gentleman an’ scholar;
But tho’ he was o’ high degree,
The fient a pride, nae pride had he;
But wad hae spent an hour caressin,
Ev’n wi’ a tinkler-gipsy’s messin;
At kirk or market, mill or smiddie,
Nae tawted tyke, tho’ e’er sae dudie,
But he wad stan’t, as glad to see him,
An’ stroan’t on stanes an’ hillocks wi’ him.

The tither was a ploughman’s collie,
A rhyming, ranting, raving billie,
Wha for his friend an’ comrade had him,
And in his freaks had Luath ca’d him,
After some dog in Highland sang,
Was made lang syne – Lord knows how lang.
He was a gash an’ faithfu’ tyke,
As ever lap a sheugh or dyke.
His honest, sonsie, baws’nt face
Ay gat him friends in ilka place;
His breast was white, his tousie back
Weel clad wi’ coat o’ glossy black;
His gawsie tail, wi’ upward curl,
Hung owre his hurdies wi’ a swirl.

Nae doubt but they were fain o’ ither,
And unco pack an’ thick thegither,
Wi’ social nose whyles snuff’d an’ snowkit;
Whyles mice an’ moudieworts they howkit;
Whyles scour’d awa’ in lang excursion,
An’ worry’d ither in diversion;
Till tir’d at last wi’ monie a farce,
They sat them down upon their arse,
An’ there began a lang digression
About the ‘lords o’ the creation’.

Caesar.
I’ve aften wonder’d, honest Luath,
What sort o’ life poor dogs like you have;
An’ when the gentry’s life I saw,
What way poor bodies liv’d ava.

Our laird gets in his racked rents,
His coals, his kain, an’ a’ his stents:
He rises when he likes himsel;
His flunkies answer at the bell;
He ca’s his coach; he ca’s his horse;
He draws a bonie silken purse,
As lang’s my tail, whare, thro’ the steeks,
The yellow letter’d Geordie keeks.

Frae morn to e’en it’s nought but toiling,
At baking, roasting, frying, boiling;
An’ tho’ the gentry first are stechin,
Yet ev’n the ha’ folk fill their pechan
Wi’ sauce, ragouts, an’ sic like trashtrie,
That’s little short o’ downright wastrie:
Our whipper-in, wee, blastit wonner,
Poor, worthless elf, it eats a dinner,
Better than onie tenant-man
His Honor has in a’ the lan’;
An’ what poor cot-folk pit their painch in,
I own it’s past my comprehension.

Luath.
Trowth, Caesar, whyles they’re fash’t enough:
A cotter howkin in a sheugh,
Wi’ dirty stanes biggin a dyke,
Baring a quarry, an’ sic like;
Himself, a wife, he thus sustains,
A smytrie o’ wee duddie weans,
An’ nought but his han’ darg to keep
Them right an’ tight in thack an’ rape.

An’ when they meet wi’ sair disasters,
Like loss o’ health or want o’ masters,
Ye maist wad think, a wee touch langer,
An’ they maun starve o’ cauld and hunger:
But how it comes, I never kend yet,
They’re maistly wonderfu’ contented;
An’ buirdly chiels, an’ clever hizzies,
Are bred in sic a way as this is.

Caesar.
But then to see how ye’re negleckit,
How huff’d an’ cuff’d, an’ disrespecket!
Lord man, our gentry care as little
For delvers, ditchers, an’ sic cattle;
They gang as saucy by poor folk,
As I wad by a stinking brock.

I’ve notic’d, on our laird’s court-day,
(An’ monie a time my heart’s been wae),
Poor tenant bodies, scant o’ cash,
How they maun thole a factor’s snash:
He’ll stamp an’ threaten, curse an’ swear
He’ll apprehend them, poind their gear,
While they maun staun’, wi’ aspect humble,
An’ hear it a’, an’ fear an’ tremble!
I see how folk live that hae riches;
But surely poor-folk maun be wretches!

Luath.
They’re nae sae wretched ‘s ane wad think:
Tho’ constantly on poortith’s brink,
They’re sae accustom’d wi’ the sight,
The view o’t gies them little fright.

Then chance an’ fortune are sae guided,
They’re ay in less or mair provided;
An’ tho’ fatigu’d wi’ close employment,
A blink o’ rest’s a sweet enjoyment.

The dearest comfort o’ their lives,
Their grushie weans an’ faithfu’ wives;
The prattling things are just their pride,
That sweetens a’ their fire-side.

An’ whyles twalpennie worth o’ nappy
Can mak the bodies unco happy:
They lay aside their private cares,
To mind the Kirk and State affairs;
They’ll talk o’ patronage an’ priests,
Wi’ kindling fury i’ their breasts,
Or tell what new taxation’s comin,
An’ ferlie at the folk in London.

As bleak-fac’d Hallowmass returns,
They get the jovial, ranting kirns,
When rural life, of every station,
Unite in common recreation;
Love blinks, Wit slaps, an’ social Mirth
Forgets there’s Care upo’ the earth.

That merry day the year begins,
They bar the door on frosty win’s;
The nappy reeks wi’ mantling ream,
An’ sheds a heart-inspiring steam;
The luntin pipe, an’ sneeshin mill,
Are handed round wi’ right guid will;
The cantie auld folks crackin crouse,
The young anes ranting thro’ the house-
My heart has been sae fain to see them,
That I for joy hae barkit wi’ them.

Still it’s owre true that ye hae said
Sic game is now owre aften play’d;
There’s monie a creditable stock
O’ decent, honest, fawsont folk,
Are riven out baith root and branch,
Some rascal’s pridefu’ greed to quench,
Wha thinks to knit himsel the faster
In favor wi’ some gentle master,
Wha, aiblins thrang a parliamentin’,
For Britain’s guid his saul indentin’.

Caesar.
Haith, lad, ye little ken about it:
For Britain’s guid! guid faith! I doubt it.
Say rather, gaun as Premiers lead him:
An’ saying aye or no ‘s they bid him:
At operas an’ plays parading,
Mortgaging, gambling, masquerading:
Or maybe, in a frolic daft,
To Hague or Calais taks a waft,
To make a tour an’ tak a whirl,
To learn bon ton, an’ see the worl’.

There at Vienna or Versailles,
He rives his father’s auld entails;
Or by Madrid he taks the rout,
To thrum guitars an’ fecht wi’ nowt;
Or down the Italian vista startles,
Whore-hunting amang groves o’ myrtles
Then bowses drumlie German-water,
To mak himsel look fair an’ fatter,
An’ purge the bitter ga’s an’ cankers
O’ curst Venetian bores an’ chancres.
For Britain’s guid! For her destruction!
Wi’ dissipation, feud an’ faction.

Luath.
Hech man! dear sirs! is that the gate
They waste sae monie a braw estate!
Are we sae foughten an’ harass’d
For gear ta gang that gate at last?

O would they stay aback frae courts,
An please themsels wi’ countra sports,
It wad for ev’ry ane be better,
The laird, the tenant, an’ the cotter!
For thae frank, rantin, ramblin billies,
Fient haet o’ them’s ill-hearted fellows:
Except for breakin o’ their timmer,
Or speaking lightly o’ their limmer,
Or shootin of a hare or moor-cock,
The never-a-bit they’re ill to poor folk.

But will ye tell me, master Caeser:
Sure great folk’s life’s a life o’ pleasure?
Nae cauld nor hunger e’er can steer them,
The vera thought o’t need na fear them.

Caesar.
Lord, man, were ye but whyles whare I am,
The gentles, ye wad ne’er envy ’em!

It’s true, they need na starve or sweat,
Thro’ winter’s cauld, or simmer’s heat;
They’ve nae sair wark to craze their banes,
An’ fill auld-age wi’ grips an granes:
But human bodies are sic fools,
For a’ their colleges an’ schools,
That when nae real ills perplex them;
They mak enow themsels to vex them;
An’ ay the less they hae to sturt them,
In like proportion, less will hurt them.

A countra fellow at the pleugh,
His acre’s till’d, he’s right enough,
A countra girl at her wheel,
Her dizzen’s done, she’s unco weel;
But gentlemen, an’ ladies warst,
Wi’ ev’n down want o’ wark are curst:
They loiter, lounging, lank an’ lazy;
Tho’ deil-haet ails them, yet uneasy:
Their days insipid, dull an’ tasteless;
Their nights unquiet, lang an’ restless.

An’ even their sports, their balls an’ races,
Their galloping through public places,
There’s sic parade, sic pomp an’ art,
The joy can hardly reach the heart.

The men cast out in party-matches,
Then sowther a’ in deep debauches;
Ae night they’re mad wi’ drink an’ whoring,
Niest day their life is past enduring.

The ladies arm-in-arm in clusters;
As great an’ gracious a’ as sisters;
But hear their absent thoughts o’ ither.
They’re a’ run deils an’ jads thegither,
Whyles, owre the wee bit cup an’ platie,
They sip the scandal-potion pretty;
Or lee-lang nights, wi’ crabbit leuks,
Pore owre the devil’s pictur’d beuks;
Stake on a chance a farmer’s stackyard,
An’ cheat like onie unhang’d blackguard.

There’s some exceptions, man an’ woman;
But this is Gentry’s life in common.

By this, the sun was out o’ sight,
An’ darker gloamin brought the night;
The bum-clock humm’d wi’ lazy drone;
The kye stood rowtin’ i’ the loan;
When up they gat, an’ shook their lugs,
Rejoic’d they were na men, but dogs;
An’ each took aff his several way,
Resolv’d to meet some ither day.

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