Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. IV. The Higher Life
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume IV. The Higher Life.  1904.
 
VI. Human Experience
To the Unco Guid
Robert Burns (1759–1796)
 
 “My son, these maxims make a rule
  And lump them aye thegither:
The Rigid Righteous is a fool,
  The Rigid Wise anither:
The cleanest corn that e’er was dight
  May hae some pyles o’ caff in;
Sae ne’er a fellow-creature slight
  For random fits o’ daffin.”
—SOLOMON, Ecclesiastes vii. 16.    

O YE wha are sae guid yoursel’,
  Sae pious and sae holy,
Ye ’ve nought to do but mark and tell
  Your neebor’s fauts and folly:—
Whase life is like a weel-gaun mill,        5
  Supplied wi’ store o’ water,
The heapèt happer’s ebbing still,
  And still the clap plays clatter.
 
Hear me, ye venerable core,
  As counsel for poor mortals,        10
That frequent pass douce Wisdom’s door,
  For glaikit Folly’s portals!
I, for their thoughtless, careless sakes,
  Would here propone defences,
Their donsie tricks, their black mistakes,        15
  Their failings and mischances.
 
Ye see your state wi’ theirs compared,
  And shudder at the niffer;
But cast a moment’s fair regard,
  What makes the mighty differ?        20
Discount what scant occasion gave
  That purity ye pride in,
And (what ’s aft mair than a’ the lave)
  Your better art o’ hidin’.
 
Think, when your castigated pulse        25
  Gies now and then a wallop,
What ragings must his veins convulse,
  That still eternal gallop:
Wi’ wind and tide fair i’ your tail,
  Right on ye scud your sea-way;        30
But in the teeth o’ baith to sail,
  It makes an unco leeway.
 
See Social life and Glee sit down,
  All joyous and unthinking,
Till, quite transmugrified, they’re grown        35
  Debauchery and Drinking:
O, would they stay to calculate
  The eternal consequences;
Or your mortal dreaded hell to state,
  Damnation of expenses!        40
 
Ye high, exalted, virtuous dames,
  Tied up in godly laces,
Before ye gie poor Frailty names,
  Suppose a change o’ cases;
A dear-loved lad, convenience snug,        45
  A treacherous inclination,—
But, let me whisper i’ your lug,
  Ye ’re aiblins nae temptation.
 
Then gently scan your brother man,
  Still gentler sister woman;        50
Though they may gang a kennin’ wrang,
  To step aside is human.
One point must still be greatly dark,
  The moving why they do it;
And just as lamely can ye mark        55
  How far perhaps they rue it.
 
Who made the heart, ’t is He alone
  Decidedly can try us;
He knows each chord,—its various tone,
  Each spring,—its various bias:        60
Then at the balance let ’s be mute,
  We never can adjust it;
What ’s done we partly may compute,
  But know not what’s resisted.
 
 
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