Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. III. Addison to Blake
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. III. The Eighteenth Century: Addison to Blake
 
Epistle to a Young Friend
By Robert Burns (1759–1796)
 
May 1786

I LANG hae thought, my youthfu’ friend, 1
  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,        5
  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,        10
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,        15
  Where ev’ry nerve is strained.
 
I ’ll no say, men are villains a’;
  The real, hardened wicked,
Wha hae nae check but human law,
  Are to a few restricket;        20
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’ 2 in fortune’s strife,        25
  Their fate we shouldna censure,
For still the important end of life
  They equally may answer;
A man may hae an honest heart,
  Tho’ poortith 3 hourly stare him;        30
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        35
  Ye scarcely tell to ony.
Conceal yoursel as weel ’s ye can
  Frae critical dissection;
But keek 4 thro’ ev’ry other man,
  Wi’ sharpened, sly inspection.        40
 
The sacred lowe 5 o’ weel-placed love,
  Luxuriantly indulge it;
But never tempt th’ illicit rove,
  Tho’ naething should divulge it;
I waive the quantum o’ the sin,        45
  The hazard o’ concealing;
But, och! it hardens a’ within,
  And petrifies the feeling!
 
To catch dame Fortune’s golden smile,
  Assiduous wait upon her;        50
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        55
  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;        60
Its slightest touches, instant pause—
  Debar a’ side pretences;
And resolutely keep its laws,
  Uncaring consequences.
 
The great Creator to revere,        65
  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;        70
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,        75
  It may be little minded;
But when on life we ’re tempest-driv’n—
  A conscience but 6 a canker,
A correspondence fix’d wi’ Heav’n,
  Is sure a noble anchor!        80
 
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,’        85
  Still daily to grow wiser;
And may you better reck the rede, 7
  Than ever did th’ Adviser!
 
Note 1. Andrew Aiken. [back]
Note 2. fall. [back]
Note 3. poverty. [back]
Note 4. peep. [back]
Note 5. flame. [back]
Note 6. without. [back]
Note 7. heed the counsel. [back]
 
 
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