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Robert Burns (1759–1796).  Poems and Songs.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
62. Epistle to William Simson
 
 
Schoolmaster, Ochiltree.—May, 1785
 
 
I GAT your letter, winsome Willie;
Wi’ gratefu’ heart I thank you brawlie;
Tho’ I maun say’t, I wad be silly,
                And unco vain,
Should I believe, my coaxin billie        5
                Your flatterin strain.
 
But I’se believe ye kindly meant it:
I sud be laith to think ye hinted
Ironic satire, sidelins sklented
                On my poor Musie;        10
Tho’ in sic phraisin terms ye’ve penn’d it,
                I scarce excuse ye.
 
My senses wad be in a creel,
Should I but dare a hope to speel
Wi’ Allan, or wi’ Gilbertfield,        15
                The braes o’ fame;
Or Fergusson, the writer-chiel,
                A deathless name.
 
(O Fergusson! thy glorious parts
Ill suited law’s dry, musty arts!        20
My curse upon your whunstane hearts,
                Ye E’nbrugh gentry!
The tithe o’ what ye waste at cartes
                Wad stow’d his pantry!)
 
Yet when a tale comes i’ my head,        25
Or lassies gie my heart a screed—
As whiles they’re like to be my dead,
                (O sad disease!)
I kittle up my rustic reed;
                It gies me ease.        30
 
Auld Coila now may fidge fu’ fain,
She’s gotten poets o’ her ain;
Chiels wha their chanters winna hain,
                But tune their lays,
Till echoes a’ resound again        35
                Her weel-sung praise.
 
Nae poet thought her worth his while,
To set her name in measur’d style;
She lay like some unkenn’d-of-isle
                Beside New Holland,        40
Or whare wild-meeting oceans boil
                Besouth Magellan.
 
Ramsay an’ famous Fergusson
Gied Forth an’ Tay a lift aboon;
Yarrow an’ Tweed, to monie a tune,        45
                Owre Scotland rings;
While Irwin, Lugar, Ayr, an’ Doon
                Naebody sings.
 
Th’ Illissus, Tiber, Thames, an’ Seine,
Glide sweet in monie a tunefu’ line:        50
But Willie, set your fit to mine,
                An’ cock your crest;
We’ll gar our streams an’ burnies shine
                Up wi’ the best!
 
We’ll sing auld Coila’s plains an’ fells,        55
Her moors red-brown wi’ heather bells,
Her banks an’ braes, her dens and dells,
                Whare glorious Wallace
Aft bure the gree, as story tells,
                Frae Suthron billies.        60
 
At Wallace’ name, what Scottish blood
But boils up in a spring-tide flood!
Oft have our fearless fathers strode
                By Wallace’ side,
Still pressing onward, red-wat-shod,        65
                Or glorious died!
 
O, sweet are Coila’s haughs an’ woods,
When lintwhites chant amang the buds,
And jinkin hares, in amorous whids,
                Their loves enjoy;        70
While thro’ the braes the cushat croods
                With wailfu’ cry!
 
Ev’n winter bleak has charms to me,
When winds rave thro’ the naked tree;
Or frosts on hills of Ochiltree        75
                Are hoary gray;
Or blinding drifts wild-furious flee,
                Dark’ning the day!
 
O Nature! a’ thy shews an’ forms
To feeling, pensive hearts hae charms!        80
Whether the summer kindly warms,
                Wi’ life an light;
Or winter howls, in gusty storms,
                The lang, dark night!
 
The muse, nae poet ever fand her,        85
Till by himsel he learn’d to wander,
Adown some trottin burn’s meander,
                An’ no think lang:
O sweet to stray, an’ pensive ponder
                A heart-felt sang!        90
 
The war’ly race may drudge an’ drive,
Hog-shouther, jundie, stretch, an’ strive;
Let me fair Nature’s face descrive,
                And I, wi’ pleasure,
Shall let the busy, grumbling hive        95
                Bum owre their treasure.
 
Fareweel, “my rhyme-composing” brither!
We’ve been owre lang unkenn’d to ither:
Now let us lay our heads thegither,
                In love fraternal:        100
May envy wallop in a tether,
                Black fiend, infernal!
 
While Highlandmen hate tools an’ taxes;
While moorlan’s herds like guid, fat braxies;
While terra firma, on her axis,        105
                Diurnal turns;
Count on a friend, in faith an’ practice,
                In Robert Burns.
 
POSTCRIPT


MY memory’s no worth a preen;
I had amaist forgotten clean,        110
Ye bade me write you what they mean
                By this “new-light,”
’Bout which our herds sae aft hae been
                Maist like to fight.
 
In days when mankind were but callans        115
At grammar, logic, an’ sic talents,
They took nae pains their speech to balance,
                Or rules to gie;
But spak their thoughts in plain, braid lallans,
                Like you or me.        120
 
In thae auld times, they thought the moon,
Just like a sark, or pair o’ shoon,
Wore by degrees, till her last roon
                Gaed past their viewin;
An’ shortly after she was done        125
                They gat a new ane.
 
This passed for certain, undisputed;
It ne’er cam i’ their heads to doubt it,
Till chiels gat up an’ wad confute it,
                An’ ca’d it wrang;        130
An’ muckle din there was about it,
                Baith loud an’ lang.
 
Some herds, weel learn’d upo’ the beuk,
Wad threap auld folk the thing misteuk;
For ’twas the auld moon turn’d a neuk        135
                An’ out of’ sight,
An’ backlins-comin to the leuk
                She grew mair bright.
 
This was deny’d, it was affirm’d;
The herds and hissels were alarm’d        140
The rev’rend gray-beards rav’d an’ storm’d,
                That beardless laddies
Should think they better wer inform’d,
                Than their auld daddies.
 
Frae less to mair, it gaed to sticks;        145
Frae words an’ aiths to clours an’ nicks;
An monie a fallow gat his licks,
                Wi’ hearty crunt;
An’ some, to learn them for their tricks,
                Were hang’d an’ brunt.        150
 
This game was play’d in mony lands,
An’ auld-light caddies bure sic hands,
That faith, the youngsters took the sands
                Wi’ nimble shanks;
Till lairds forbad, by strict commands,        155
                Sic bluidy pranks.
 
But new-light herds gat sic a cowe,
Folk thought them ruin’d stick-an-stowe;
Till now, amaist on ev’ry knowe
                Ye’ll find ane plac’d;        160
An’ some their new-light fair avow,
                Just quite barefac’d.
 
Nae doubt the auld-light flocks are bleatin;
Their zealous herds are vex’d an’ sweatin;
Mysel’, I’ve even seen them greetin        165
                Wi’ girnin spite,
To hear the moon sae sadly lied on
                By word an’ write.
 
But shortly they will cowe the louns!
Some auld-light herds in neebor touns        170
Are mind’t, in things they ca’ balloons,
                To tak a flight;
An’ stay ae month amang the moons
                An’ see them right.
 
Guid observation they will gie them;        175
An’ when the auld moon’s gaun to lea’e them,
The hindmaist shaird, they’ll fetch it wi’ them
                Just i’ their pouch;
An’ when the new-light billies see them,
                I think they’ll crouch!        180
 
Sae, ye observe that a’ this clatter
Is naething but a “moonshine matter”;
But tho’ dull prose-folk Latin splatter
                In logic tulyie,
I hope we bardies ken some better        185
                Than mind sic brulyie.
 

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