The HyperTexts

The Seventh Romantic: Robert Burns

by Michael R. Burch

The "big six" English Romantic poets are justly famous and easy to name: William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, George Gordon (Lord Byron), Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats. But seven is the number of completeness and perfection: seven days in a week, seven notes in a musical scale, seven wonders of the ancient world, etc. And I submit that there was a Seventh Romantic who completes and perfects the school: Robert Burns.

Robert Burns [1759–1796] is also known as Bobbie Burns, Rabbie Burns, Scotland's Favorite Son, the Ploughman Poet, the Heaven-Taught Ploughman, Robden of Solway Firth and the Bard of Ayrshire. In Scotland he is often called simply The Bard, as if he has no possible rivals for the mantle of Scotland's national poet. He wrote in three languages: Scots, English and the Scots-English dialect for which he is best known today. He even immortalized mice and insects—long before Walt Disney!—as you can see by reading "To a Mouse" and "To a Louse" below. Poems by Burns also inspired the titles of two classic novels: John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men and J .D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye.

The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men gang aft agley [go oft awry].—Robert Burns

Burns was also a prolific songwriter. His version of "Auld Lang Syne" is often sung at Hogmanay (the last day of the year) not only in Scotland, but around the world. It is probably the most famous and most-sung drinking poem of all time.

We'll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.—Robert Burns

When asked to name the source of his greatest creative inspiration, Bob Dylan selected "A Red, Red Rose" by Robert Burns.

A Red, Red Rose
by Robert Burns
with a modern English translation by Michael R. Burch

Oh my luve is like a red, red rose,                    Oh, my love is like a red, red rose
That's newly sprung in June:                             that's newly sprung in June
Oh my luve is like the melodie,                         and my love is like the melody
That's sweetly play'd in tune.                            that's sweetly played in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonie lass,                         And you're so fair, my lovely lass,
So deep in luve am I;                                        and so deep in love am I,
And I will luve thee still, my dear,                   that I will love you still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.                                   till all the seas run dry.

Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,                     Till all the seas run dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun;                         and the rocks melt with the sun!
And I will luve thee still, my dear,                    And I will love you still, my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run.                       while the sands of life shall run.  

And fare thee weel, my only luve!                    And fare you well, my only love!
And fare thee weel a while!                              And fare you well, awhile!
And I will come again, my luve,                       And I will come again, my love,
Tho' it were ten thousand mile!                         though it were ten thousand miles!

Abraham Lincoln was also a Burns fan, reciting his poetry from memory and perhaps being influenced to emancipate African American slaves by the  Scottish poet's passionately stated belief in human equality.

The rank is but the guinea’s stamp;
the man’s the gowd [gold] for a’ [all] that!
—Robert Burns

Burns was saying that the common man is as good as any king or lord. A man far ahead of his time, on the eve of the French Revolution in 1792, Burns was already writing "The Rights of Woman" (which appears in full later on this page).

While Europe’s eye is fix’d on mighty things,
The fate of empires and the fall of kings;
While quacks of state must each produce his plan,
And even children lisp the Rights of Man;
Amid this mighty fuss just let me mention,
The Rights of Woman merit some attention.
—Robert Burns

Burns was called the "people's poet" among Russian peasantry for his pro-Everyman views; he remains popular in Russia, where his poetry is taught to students to this day. For me, what shines through the poetry of Robert Burns is his compassion for all living creatures: whether for a young girl accused of "loose morals" for embracing a boy, or for a field mouse whose nest was destroyed by a plow, or for a daisy cut down before its time, or for himself when he had to part with someone he cherished.

The heart benevolent and kind
The most resembles God.
—Robert Burns

Burns was a pioneer of the Romantic movement, influencing major poets like Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelley. He also became a source of inspiration to the founding founders of democratic, liberal and socialist movements around the world. Today, Burns is a national hero and a cultural icon in Scotland and among the Scottish Diaspora around the world. In 2009 he was designated the Greatest Scot by a poll conducted by Scottish television channel STV. Sir Walter Scott, the keen-eyed historian, once described the Ploughman Poet with great admiration: "His person was strong and robust; his manners rustic, not clownish, a sort of dignified plainness and simplicity which received part of its effect perhaps from knowledge of his extraordinary talents." Burns died at age 37 after a dental extraction; his premature death makes his many accomplishments all the more impressive.

[Scottish songs] are, I own, frequently wild, & unreduceable to the more modern rules; but on that very eccentricity, perhaps, depends a great part of their effect.—Robert Burns

The Burns poem "Comin Thro the Rye" may be best-known today because of Holden Caulfield's misinterpretation of it in The Catcher in the Rye. In the book, Caulfield relates a fantasy to his sister, Phoebe: he's the "catcher in the rye," rescuing children from falling from a cliff. Phoebe corrects him, pointing out that poem is not about a "catcher" in the rye, but about a girl who has met someone in the rye for a kiss (or more), got her underclothes wet (not for the first time), and is dragging her way back to a polite (i.e., Puritanical) society that despises girls who are "easy." Robert Burns, an honest man, was exhibiting empathy for girls who were castigated for doing what all the boys and men longed to do themselves.

Comin Thro the Rye
by Robert Burns
with a modern English translation by Michael R. Burch

O, Jenny's a' weet, poor body,                 Oh, Jenny's all wet, poor body,
Jenny's seldom dry;                                  Jenny's seldom dry;
She draigl't a' her petticoattie                   She's draggin' all her petticoats
Comin thro' the rye.                                 Comin' through the rye.

Comin thro the rye, poor body,               Comin' through the rye, poor body,
Comin thro the rye,                                 Comin' through the rye.
She draigl't a'her petticoatie,                   She's draggin' all her petticoats
Comin thro the rye!                                 Comin' through the rye.

Gin a body meet a body                          Should a body meet a body
Comin thro the rye,                                 Comin' through the rye,
Gin a body kiss a body,                           Should a body kiss a body,
Need a body cry?                                    Need anybody cry?

Comin thro the rye, poor body,               Comin' through the rye, poor body,
Comin thro the rye,                                 Comin' through the rye.
She draigl't a'her petticoatie,                   She's draggin' all her petticoats
Comin thro the rye!                                 Comin' through the rye.

Gin a body meet a body                          Should a body meet a body
Comin thro the glen,                               Comin' through the glen,
Gin a body kiss a body,                          Should a body kiss a body,
Need the warld ken?                               Need all the world know, then?

Comin thro the rye, poor body,               Comin' through the rye, poor body,
Comin thro the rye,                                 Comin' through the rye.
She draigl't a'her petticoatie,                   She's draggin' all her petticoats
Comin thro the rye!                                 Comin' through the rye.

“Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn!”—Robert Burns

If you like my translations on this page, you can read my translations of some of the great early poems of the English language, such as "Wulf and Eadwacer" and "Sweet Rose of Virtue" (the latter also written by a Scottish poet, William Dunbar), by clicking here: The Best Poetry Translations of Michael R. Burch. If you haven't read these poems, you've missed out on some of the real wonders of the ancient world! But please be sure to click your browser's BACK button to continue reading the work of Scotland's greatest bard.

“There is a certain something in the old Scotch songs, a wild happiness of thought and expression.”Robert Burns

One Sunday while sitting behind a young lady in church, Burns noticed a louse roaming through the bows and ribbons of her bonnet. The poem "To a Louse" resulted from his observations. The poor woman had no idea that she would be the subject of one of Burns' best poems about how we see ourselves, compared to how other people see us at our worst moments.

To a Louse
by Robert Burns
modern English translation by Michael R. Burch

Ha! Whare ye gaun, ye crowlin ferlie?               Hey! Where're you going, you crawling hair-fly?
Your impudence protects you sairly,                  Your impudence protects you, barely;
I canna say but ye strut rarely                            I can only say that you swagger rarely
Owre gauze and lace,                                         Over gauze and lace.
Tho' faith! I fear ye dine but sparely                  Though faith! I fear you dine but sparely
On sic a place.                                                    In such a place.

Ye ugly, creepin, blastit wonner,                       You ugly, creeping, blasted wonder,
Detested, shunn'd by saunt an' sinner,               Detested, shunned by both saint and sinner,
How daur ye set your fit upon her—                 How dare you set your feet upon her—
Sae fine a lady!                                                  So fine a lady!
Gae somewhere else and seek your dinner       Go somewhere else to seek your dinner
On some poor body.                                          On some poor body.

Swith! in some beggar's hauffet squattle:           Off! around some beggar's temple shamble:
There you may creep, and sprawl, and sprattle  There you may creep, and sprawl, and scramble,
Wi' ither kindred, jumping cattle,                       With other kindred, jumping cattle,
In shoals and nations;                                         In shoals and nations;
Whare horn nor bane ne'er daur unsettle           Where horn nor bone never dare unsettle
Your thick plantations.                                       Your thick plantations.

Now haud you there! ye're out o' sight,             Now hold you there! You're out of sight,
Below the fatt'rils, snug an' tight;                       Below the folderols, snug and tight;
Na, faith ye yet! ye'll no be right,                       No, faith just yet! You'll not be right,
Till ye've got on it—                                          Till you've got on it:
The vera tapmost, tow'ring height                      The very topmost, towering height
O' miss's bonnet.                                                Of miss's bonnet.

My sooth! right bauld ye set your nose out       My word! right bold you root, contrary,
As plump an' grey as onie grozet:                      As plump and gray as any gooseberry.
O for some rank, mercurial rozet,                      Oh, for some rank, mercurial resin,
Or fell, red smeddum,                                        Or dread red poison;
I'd gie ye sic a hearty dose o't,                           I'd give you such a hearty dose, flea,
Wad dress your droddum!                                 It'd dress your noggin!

I wad na been surpris'd to spy                           I wouldn't be surprised to spy
You on an auld wife's flainen toy:                    You on some housewife's flannel tie:
Or aiblins some bit duddie boy,                        Or maybe on some ragged boy's
On's wyliecoat;                                                 Pale undervest;
But Miss's fine Lunardi! fye!                            But Miss's finest bonnet! Fie!
How daur ye do't.                                             How dare you jest?

O Jenny, dinna toss your head,                         Oh Jenny, do not toss your head,
An' set your beauties a' abread!                        And lash your lovely braids abroad!
You little ken what cursed speed                      You hardly know what cursed speed
The blastie's makin!                                          The creature's making!
Thae winks an' finger-ends, I dread,                 Those winks and finger-ends, I dread,
Are notice takin'!                                              Are notice-taking!

O wad some Power the giftie gie us                  O would some Power with vision teach us
To see oursels as ithers see us!                         To see ourselves as others see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us,                 It would from many a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion:                                            And foolish notions:
What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us,           What airs in dress and carriage would leave us,
An' ev'n devotion!                                            And even devotion!

“O wad some Power the giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us!”—Robert Burns

A friend of Burns explains how he came to immortalize a lowly field mouse: "This beautiful poem was imagined while the poet was holding the plough, on the farm of Mossgiel: the field is still pointed out, and a man called Blane is still living, who says he was gaudsman to the bard at the time, and chased the mouse with the plough-pettle, for which he was rebuked by his young master, who inquired what harm the poor mouse had done him. In the night that followed, Burns awoke his gaudsman, who was in the same bed with him, recited the poem as it now stands, and said, 'What think you of our mouse now?'"

To a Mouse
by Robert Burns
modern English translation by Michael R. Burch

Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim'rous beastie,      Sleek, tiny, timorous, cowering beast,
O, what panic's in thy breastie!                   why's such panic in your breast?
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,              Why dash away, so quick, so rash,
Wi' bickering brattle!                                  in a frenzied flash
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,            when I would be loath to run after you
Wi' murd'ring pattle!                                  with a murderous plowstaff!

I'm truly sorry Man's dominion                   I'm truly sorry Man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,               has broken Nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion,                        and justifies that bad opinion
Which makes thee startle,                          which makes you startle,
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,    when I'm your poor, earth-born companion
An' fellow-mortal!                                      and fellow mortal!

I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;      I have no doubt you sometimes thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!    What of it, friend? You too must live!
A daimen-icker in a thrave                           A random corn-ear in a shock's
'S a sma' request:                                           a small behest; it-
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,                         'll give me a blessing to know such a loss;
An' never miss't!                                           I'll never miss it!

Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!                 Your tiny house lies in a ruin,
It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!              its fragile walls wind-rent and strewn!
An' naething, now, to big a new ane,           Now nothing's left to construct you a new one
O' foggage green!                                         of mosses green
An' bleak December's winds ensuin,           since bleak December's winds, ensuing,
Baith snell an' keen!                                    blow fast and keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an' wast,       You saw your fields laid bare and waste
An' weary Winter comin fast,                     with weary winter closing fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,               and cozy here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,                                you thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past                 till crash! the cruel iron ploughshare passed
Out thro' thy cell.                                        straight through your cell!

That wee-bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,       That flimsy heap of leaves and stubble
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!           had cost you many a weary nibble!
Now thou's turn'd out, for a' thy trouble,     Now you're turned out, for all your trouble,
But house or hald.                                        less house and hold,
To thole the Winter's sleety dribble,            to endure cold winter's icy dribble
An' cranreuch cauld!                                    and hoarfrosts cold!

But Mousie, thou are no thy-lane,               But mouse-friend, you are not alone
In proving foresight may be vain:                in proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,      the best-laid schemes of Mice and Men
Gang aft agley,                                            go oft awry,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,          and leave us only grief and pain,
For promis'd joy!                                         for promised joy!

Still, thou art blest, compar'd wi' me!          Still, friend, you're blessed compared with me!
The present only toucheth thee:                  Only present dangers make you flee:
But Och! I backward cast my e'e,              But, ouch!, behind me I can see
On prospects drear!                                    grim prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,                    While forward-looking seers, we
I guess an' fear!                                          humans guess and fear!

Burns joined a dancing club at age 17, and a few years later he co-founded the Tarbolton Bachelor’s Club. The rules stated: “Every man proper for a member of this Society, must have a frank, honest, open heart; above anything dirty or mean; and must be a professed lover of one or more of the female sex. No haughty, self-conceited person, who looks upon himself as superior to the rest of the club, and especially no mean spirited, worldly mortal, whose only will is to heap up money shall upon any pretence whatever be admitted.” The club became the inspiration for hundreds of "Burns clubs" around the world, where poetry and ribald songs are "chased" with shots of good Scotch whiskey.

Afton Water

Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes,
Flow gently, I'll sing thee a song in thy praise;
My Mary's asleep by thy murmuring stream,
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.
Thou stock-dove, whose echo resounds thro' the glen,
Ye wild whistling blackbirds in yon thorny den,
Thou green-crested lapwing, thy screaming forbear,
I charge you disturb not my slumbering fair.
How lofty, sweet Afton, thy neighbouring hills,
Far mark'd with the courses of clear winding rills;
There daily I wander as noon rises high,
My flocks and my Mary's sweet cot in my eye.
How pleasant thy banks and green valleys below,
Where wild in the woodlands the primroses blow;
There oft, as mild Ev'ning sweeps over the lea,
The sweet-scented birk shades my Mary and me.
Thy crystal stream, Afton, how lovely it glides,
And winds by the cot where my Mary resides,
How wanton thy waters her snowy feet lave,
As gathering sweet flowrets she stems thy clear wave.
Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes,
Flow gently, sweet river, the theme of my lays;
My Mary's asleep by thy murmuring stream,
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.

“I pick my favourite quotations and store them in my mind as ready armour, offensive or defensive, amid the struggle of this turbulent existence.”Robert Burns

Ae Fond Kiss

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;   
Ae fareweel, alas, for ever! 
Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,    
Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee! 
Who shall say that Fortune grieves him
While the star of hope she leaves him?   
Me, nae cheerfu' twinkle lights me,
Dark despair around benights me.   
I'll ne'er blame my partial fancy; 
Naething could resist my Nancy;
But to see her was to love her,    
Love but her, and love for ever.   
Had we never loved sae kindly,     
Had we never loved sae blindly,    
Never met—or never parted,
We had ne'er been broken-hearted.  
Fare thee weel, thou first and fairest!  
Fare thee weel, thou best and dearest!   
Thine be ilka joy and treasure,    
Peace, enjoyment, love, and pleasure!
Ae fond kiss, and then we sever!   
Ae fareweel, alas, for ever! 
Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,    
Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee! 

“The wisest man the warl’ [world] e’er saw, he dearly lov’d the lasses, O. [Solomon had hundreds of wives and concubines]”—Robert Burns

“Is not the Scotch phrase,” Burns writes to Mrs. Dunlop, “Auld lang syne, exceedingly expressive? There is an old song and tune which has often thrilled through my soul: I shall give you the verses on the other sheet. Light be the turf on the breast of the heaven-inspired poet who composed this glorious fragment.” “The following song,” says the poet, when he communicated it to George Thomson, “an old song of the olden times, and which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript, until I took it down from an old man’s singing, is enough to recommend any air.” These are strong words, but there can be no doubt that, save for a line or two, we owe the song to no other minstrel than “minstrel Burns.”

Auld Lange Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to min’?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days o’ lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pu’t the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary foot,
Sin’ auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl’t i’ the burn,
Frae mornin’ sun till dine:
But seas between us braid hae roar’d,
Sin’ auld lang syne.

And here’s a hand, my trusty fiere,
And gie’s a hand o’ thine;
And we’ll take a right guid willie-waught,
For auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp,
And surely I’ll be mine;
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

“Affliction's sons are brothers in distress; a brother to relieve, how exquisite the bliss!”—Robert Burns

"In this noble lyric Burns has vindicated the natural right of his species. He modestly says to Thomson, 'I do not give you this song for your book, but merely by way of vive la bagatelle; for the piece is really not poetry, but will be allowed to be two or three pretty good prose thoughts inverted into rhyme.' Thomson took the song, but hazarded no praise."

Is There, for Honest Poverty

Is there, for honest poverty,
That hangs his head, and a’ that?
The coward-slave, we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a’ that!
For a’ that, and a’ that,
Our toils obscure, and a’ that;
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
The man’s the gowd for a’ that!

What tho’ on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin gray, and a’ that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine,
A man’s a man, for a’ that!
For a’ that, and a’ that,
Their tinsel show, and a’ that;
The honest man, though e’er sae poor,
Is king o’ men for a’ that!

Ye see yon birkie, ca’d—a lord,
Wha struts, and stares, and a’ that;
Though hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a coof for a’ that:
For a’ that, and a’ that,
His riband, star, and a’ that,
The man of independent mind,
He looks and laughs at a’ that.

A king can make a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, and a’ that,
But an honest man’s aboon his might,
Guid faith, he maunna fa’ that!
For a’ that, and a’ that,
Their dignities, and a’ that,
The pith o’ sense, and pride o’ worth,
Are higher ranks than a’ that.

Then let us pray that come it may—
As come it will for a’ that—
That sense and worth, o’er a’ the earth,
May bear the gree, and a’ that;
For a’ that, and a’ that,
It’s comin’ yet for a’ that,
That man to man, the warld o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that!

“Let them cant about decorum, who have characters to lose!”—Robert Burns

“Man was made when nature was but an apprentice; but woman is the last and most perfect work of nature,” says an old writer, in a rare old book: a passage which expresses the sentiment of Burns; yet it is all but certain, that the Ploughman Bard was unacquainted with “Cupid’s Whirlygig,” where these words are to be found.

There's Nought But Care

Tune—“Green grow the rashes”


Green grow the rashes, O!
Green grow the rashes, O!
The sweetest hours that e’er I spend
Are spent amang the lasses, O.

There’s nought but care on ev’ry han’,
In every hour that passes, O:
What signifies the life o’ man,
An’ ’twere na for the lasses, O.

The warly race may riches chase,
An’ riches still may fly them, O;
An’ tho’ at last they catch them fast,
Their hearts can ne’er enjoy them, O.

But gie me a canny hour at e’en,
My arms about my dearie, O;
An’ warly cares, an’ warly men,
May a’ gae tapsalteerie, O.

For you sae douce, ye sneer at this,
Ye’re nought but senseless asses, O:
The wisest man the warl’ e’er saw,
He dearly lov’d the lasses, O.

Auld Nature swears the lovely dears
Her noblest work she classes, O:
Her ‘prentice han’ she try’d on man,
An’ then she made the lasses, O.

Green grow the rashes, O!
Green grow the rashes, O!
The sweetest hours that e’er I spend
Are spent amang the lasses, O.

“There is no such uncertainty as a sure thing.”—Robert Burns

Holy Willie's Prayer

“And send the godly in a pet to pray.” ― Pope

"Of this sarcastic and too daring poem many copies in manuscript were circulated while the poet lived, but though not unknown or unfelt by Currie, it continued unpublished till printed by Stewart with the Jolly Beggars, in 1801. Holy Willie was a small farmer, leading elder to Auld, a name well known to all lovers of Burns; austere in speech, scrupulous in all outward observances, and, what is known by the name of a 'professing Christian.' He experienced, however, a 'sore fall;' he permitted himself to be 'filled fou,' and in a moment when 'self got in' made free, it is said, with the money of the poor of the parish. His name was William Fisher."

O thou, wha in the heavens dost dwell,
Wha, as it pleases best thysel’,
Sends ane to heaven, and ten to hell,
A’ for thy glory,
And no for ony gude or ill
They’ve done afore thee!

I bless and praise thy matchless might,
Whan thousands thou hast left in night,
That I am here afore thy sight,
For gifts and grace,
A burnin’ and a shinin’ light
To a’ this place.

What was I, or my generation,
That I should get sic exaltation,
I wha deserve sic just damnation,
For broken laws,
Five thousand years ‘fore my creation,
Thro’ Adam’s cause.

When frae my mither’s womb I fell,
Thou might hae plunged me in hell,
To gnash my gums, to weep and wail,
In burnin’ lake,
Whar damned devils roar and yell,
Chain’d to a stake.

Yet I am here a chosen sample;
To show thy grace is great and ample;
I’m here a pillar in thy temple,
Strong as a rock,
A guide, a buckler, an example,
To a’ thy flock.

But yet, O Lord! confess I must,
At times I’m fash’d wi’ fleshly lust;
And sometimes, too, wi’ warldly trust,
Vile self gets in;
But thou remembers we are dust,
Defil’d in sin.

O Lord! yestreen thou kens, wi’ Meg—
Thy pardon I sincerely beg,
O! may’t ne’er be a livin’ plague
To my dishonour,
An’ I’ll ne’er lift a lawless leg
Again upon her.

Besides, I farther maun allow,
Wi’ Lizzie’s lass, three times I trow—
But Lord, that Friday I was fou,
When I came near her,
Or else, thou kens, thy servant true
Wad ne’er hae steer’d her.

Maybe thou lets this fleshly thorn,
Beset thy servant e’en and morn,
Lest he owre high and proud should turn,
‘Cause he’s sae gifted;
If sae, thy han’ maun e’en be borne
Until thou lift it.

Lord, bless thy chosen in this place,
For here thou hast a chosen race:
But God confound their stubborn face,
And blast their name,
Wha bring thy elders to disgrace
And public shame.

Lord, mind Gawn Hamilton’s deserts,
He drinks, and swears, and plays at carts,
Yet has sae mony takin’ arts,
Wi’ grit and sma’,
Frae God’s ain priests the people’s hearts
He steals awa.

An’ whan we chasten’d him therefore,
Thou kens how he bred sic a splore,
As set the warld in a roar
O’ laughin’ at us;—
Curse thou his basket and his store,
Kail and potatoes.

Lord, hear my earnest cry and pray’r,
Against the presbyt’ry of Ayr;
Thy strong right hand, Lord, mak it bare
Upo’ their heads,
Lord weigh it down, and dinna spare,
For their misdeeds.

O Lord my God, that glib-tongu’d Aiken,
My very heart and saul are quakin’,
To think how we stood groanin’, shakin’,
And swat wi’ dread,
While Auld wi’ hingin lips gaed sneakin’
And hung his head.

Lord, in the day of vengeance try him,
Lord, visit them wha did employ him,
And pass not in thy mercy by ‘em,
Nor hear their pray’r;
But for thy people’s sake destroy ‘em,
And dinna spare.

But, Lord, remember me an mine,
Wi’ mercies temp’ral and divine,
That I for gear and grace may shine,
Excell’d by nane,
And a’ the glory shall be thine,
Amen, Amen!

“Dare to be honest and fear no labor.”—Robert Burns

Epitaph on Holy Willie

"We are informed by Richmond of Mauchline, that when he was clerk in Gavin Hamilton’s office, Burns came in one morning and said, 'I have just composed a poem, John, and if you will write it, I will repeat it.' He repeated Holy Willie’s Prayer and Epitaph; Hamilton came in at the moment, and having read them with delight, ran laughing with them in his hand to Robert Aiken. The end of Holy Willie was other than godly; in one of his visits to Mauchline, he drank more than was needful, fell into a ditch on his way home, and was found dead in the morning."

Here Holy Willie’s sair worn clay
Takes up its last abode;
His saul has ta’en some other way,
I fear the left-hand road.

Stop! there he is, as sure’s a gun,
Poor, silly body, see him;
Nae wonder he’s as black’s the grun,
Observe wha’s standing wi’ him.

Your brunstane devilship I see,
Has got him there before ye;
But hand your nine-tail cat a wee,
Till ance you’ve heard my story.

Your pity I will not implore,
For pity ye hae nane;
Justice, alas! has gi’en him o’er,
And mercy’s day is gaen.

But hear me, sir, deil as ye are,
Look something to your credit;
A coof like him wad stain your name,
If it were kent ye did it.

“Firmness in enduring and exertion is a character I always wish to possess. I have always despised the whining yelp of complaint and cowardly resolve.”—Robert Burns

"Miss Fontenelle was one of the actresses whom Williamson, the manager, brought for several seasons to Dumfries: she was young and pretty, indulged in little levities of speech, and rumour added, perhaps maliciously, levities of action. The Rights of Man had been advocated by Paine, the Rights of Woman by Mary Wolstonecroft, and nought was talked of, but the moral and political regeneration of the world."


While Europe’s eye is fix’d on mighty things,
The fate of empires and the fall of kings;
While quacks of state must each produce his plan,
And even children lisp the Rights of Man;
Amid this mighty fuss just let me mention,
The Rights of Woman merit some attention.

First on the sexes’ intermix’d connexion,
One sacred Right of Woman is protection.
The tender flower that lifts its head, elate,
Helpless, must fall before the blasts of fate,
Sunk on the earth, defac’d its lovely form,
Unless your shelter ward th’ impending storm.

Our second Right—but needless here is caution,
To keep that right inviolate’s the fashion,
Each man of sense has it so full before him,
He’d die before he’d wrong it—’tis decorum.—
There was, indeed, in far less polish’d days,
A time, when rough, rude man had haughty ways;
Would swagger, swear, get drunk, kick up a riot,
Nay, even thus invade a lady’s quiet.

Now, thank our stars! these Gothic times are fled;
Now, well-bred men—and you are all well-bred—
Most justly think (and we are much the gainers)
Such conduct neither spirit, wit, nor manners.

For Right the third, our last, our best, our dearest,
That right to fluttering female hearts the nearest,
Which even the Rights of Kings in low prostration
Most humbly own—’tis dear, dear admiration!
In that blest sphere alone we live and move;
There taste that life of life—immortal love.—
Smiles, glances, sighs, tears, fits, flirtations, airs,
‘Gainst such an host what flinty savage dares—
When awful Beauty joins with all her charms,
Who is so rash as rise in rebel arms?

But truce with kings and truce with constitutions,
With bloody armaments and revolutions,
Let majesty your first attention summon,
Ah! ça ira! the majesty of woman!

“Suspicion is a heavy armor and with its weight it impedes more than it protects.”—Robert Burns

The following are links to other translations by Michael R. Burch:

Wulf and Eadwacer
Sweet Rose of Virtue
How Long the Night
Caedmon's Hymn
Whoso List to Hunt
Bede's Death Song
The Wife's Lament
Deor's Lament
Lament for the Makaris
Ancient Greek Epigrams and Epitaphs
Oriental Masters/Haiku
Miklós Radnóti
Rainer Maria Rilke
Marina Tsvetaeva
Renée Vivien
Ono no Komachi
Allama Iqbal
Bertolt Brecht
Ber Horvitz
Paul Celan
Primo Levi
Tegner's Drapa
Robert Burns
Ahmad Faraz
Sandor Marai
Wladyslaw Szlengel
Saul Tchernichovsky

The HyperTexts