Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > The Book of Georgian Verse
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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed.  The Book of Georgian Verse.  1909.
 
Leith Races
By Robert Fergusson (1750–1774)
 
IN July month, ae bonny morn,
  Whan Nature’s rokelay green
Was spread o’er ilka rigg o’ corn,
  To charm our roving een;
Glouring about I saw a quean,        5
  The fairest ’neath the lift;
Her een ware o’ the siller sheen,
  Her skin like snawy drift,
          Sae white that day.
 
Quod she, ‘I ferly unco sair,        10
  That ye sud musand gae,
Ye wha hae sung o’ Hallow-fair,
  Her winter’s pranks and play:
Whan on Leith-Sands the racers rare,
  Wi’ Jocky louns are met,        15
Their orrow pennies there to ware,
  And drown themsel’s in debt
          Fu’ deep that day.’
 
And wha are ye, my winsome dear,
  That takes the gate sae early?        20
Whare do ye win, gin ane may spier,
  For I right meikle ferly,
That sic braw buskit laughing lass
  Thir bonny blinks shou’d gi’e,
An’ loup like Hebe o’er the grass,        25
  As wanton and as free,
          Frae dule this day.
 
‘I dwall amang the caller springs
  That weet the Land o’ Cakes,
And aften tune my canty strings        30
  At bridals and late-wakes:
They ca’ me Mirth; I ne’er was kend
  To grumble or look sour,
But blyth wad be a lift to lend,
  Gif ye wad sey my pow’r        35
          An’ pith this day.’
 
A bargain be’t, and, by my feggs,
  Gif ye will be my mate,
Wi’ you I’ll screw the cheery pegs,
  Ye shanna find me blate;        40
We’ll reel an’ ramble thro’ the sands,
  And jeer wi’ a’ we meet;
Nor hip the daft and gleesome bands
  That fill Edina’s street
          Sae thrang this day.        45
 
Ere servant maids had wont to rise
  To seeth the breakfast kettle,
Ilk dame her brawest ribbons tries,
  To put her on her mettle,
Wi’ wiles some silly chiel to trap,        50
  (And troth he’s fain to get her,)
But she’ll craw kniefly in his crap,
  Whan wow! he canna flit her
          Frae hame that day.
 
Now, mony a scaw’d and bare-ars’d lown        55
  Rise early to their wark,
Enough to fley a muckle town,
  Wi’ dinsome squeel and bark.
‘Here is the true an’ faithfu’ list
  O’ Noblemen and Horses;        60
Their eild, their weight, their height, their grist,
  That rin for Plates or Purses
          Fu’ fleet this day.’
 
To whisky plooks that brunt for wooks
  On town-guard soldiers’ faces,        65
Their barber bauld his whittle crooks,
  An’ scrapes them for the races:
Their stumps erst us’d to filipegs,
  Are dight in spaterdashes
Whase barkent hides scarce fend their legs        70
  Frae weet and weary plashes
          O’ dirt that day.
 
‘Come, hafe a care (the captain cries),
  On guns your bagnets thraw;
Now mind your manual exercise,        75
  An’ marsh down raw by raw.’
And as they march he’ll glowr about,
  Tent a’ their cuts and scars:
’Mang them fell mony a gausy snout
  Has gusht in birth-day wars,        80
          Wi’ blude that day.
 
Her nanesel maun be carefu’ now,
  Nor maun she pe misleard,
Sin baxter lads hae seal’d a vow
  To skelp and clout the guard;        85
I’m sure Auld Reikie kens o’ nane
  That wou’d be sorry at it,
Tho’ they should dearly pay the kane,
  An’ get their tails weel sautit
          And sair thir days.        90
 
The tinkler billies i’ the Bow
  Are now less eidant clinking,
As lang’s their pith or siller dow,
  They’re daffin’, and they’re drinking.
Bedown Leith Walk what burrochs reel        95
  Of ilka trade and station,
That gar their wives an’ childer feel
  Toom weyms for their libation
          O’ drink thir days.
 
The browster wives thegither harl        100
  A’ trash that they can fa’ on;
They rake the grounds o’ ilka barrel,
  To profit by the lawen:
For weel wat they a skin leal het
  For drinking needs nae hire;        105
At drumbly gear they take nae pet;
  Foul water slockens fire
        And drouth thir days.
 
They say, ill ale has been the deid
  O’ mony a beirdly lown;        110
Then dinna gape like gleds wi’ greed
  To sweel hail bickers down:
Gin Lord send mony ane the morn,
  They’ll ban fu’ sair the time
That e’er they toutit aff the horn        115
  Which wambles thro’ their weym
          Wi’ pain that day.
 
The Buchan bodies thro’ the beech
  Their bunch of Findrums cry,
An’ skirl out baul’, in Norland speech,        120
  ‘Gueed speldings, fa’ will buy.’
An’, by my saul, they’re nae wrang gear
  To gust a stirrah’s mow;
Weel staw’d wi’ them, he’ll never spear
  The price of being fu’        125
          Wi’ drink that day.
 
Now wyly wights at rowdy powl,
  An’ flingin’ o’ the dice,
Here brake the banes o’ mony a soul,
  Wi’ fa’s upo’ the ice:        130
At first the gate seems fair an’ straught,
  So they had fairly till her;
But wow! in spite o’ a’ their maught,
  They’re rookit o’ their siller
          An’ goud that day.        135
 
Around whare’er ye fling your een,
  The haiks like wind are scourin’;
Some chaises honest folk contain,
  An’ some hae mony a whore in;
Wi’ rose and lily, red and white,        140
  They gie themselves sic fit airs,
Like Dian, they will seem perfite;
  But it’s nae goud that glitters
          Wi’ them thir days.
 
The lyon here, wi’ open paw,        145
  May cleek in mony hunder,
Wha geck at Scotland and her law,
  His wyly talons under;
For ken, tho’ Jamie’s laws are auld,
  (Thanks to the wise recorder),        150
His lyon yet roars loud and bauld,
  To had the Whigs in order
          Sae prime this day.
 
To town-guard drum of clangor clear,
  Baith men and steeds are raingit;        155
Some liveries red or yellow wear,
  And some are tartan spraingit:
And now the red, the blue e’en-now
  Bids fairest for the market;
But, ere the sport be done, I trow        160
  Their skins are gayly yarkit
          And peel’d thir days.
 
Siclike in Robinhood debates,
  Whan twa chiels hae a pingle;
E’en-now some couli gets his aits,        165
  An’ dirt wi’ words they mingle,
Till up loups he, wi’ diction fu’,
  There’s lang and dreech contesting;
For now they’re near the point in view;
  Now ten miles frae the question        170
          In hand that night.
 
The races o’er, they hale the dools,
  Wi’ drink o’ a’ kin-kind;
Great feck gae hirpling hame like fools,
  The cripple lead the blind.        175
May ne’er the canker o’ the drink
  E’er make our spirits thrawart,
’Case we git wharewitha’ to wink
  Wi’ een as blue’s a blawart
          Wi’ straiks thir days!        180
 
 
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