1796 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Burns

Ninfeild, "Elegy on the Death of R. Burns, the Ayrshire Plowman" Gentleman's Magazine 66 (August 1796) 684.



How oft shall Genius, mid the chilling cloud
Of frozen Penury, unheard complain;
Still unregarded speak its ills aloud,
And urge its modest merits, but in vain?

Still must the Bard, whose emulative lays
Shew ripen'd genius join'd to judgement chaste,
Pass in the turf-built roofless cot his days,
And pine unfed amid the dreary waste!

Such was lamented virtuous Burns' hard case,
Whom pining Want, with Misery combin'd,
Press'd, sadly press'd, along life's arduous race,
And damp'd the glowing ardour of his mind.

Oft when gay Fancy, in her painted vest,
To beauteous imag'ry his soul would form,
Or flights sublime, pale Hunger thought repress'd,
And chas'd th' idea, with native genius warm.

What though he 'scap'd Obscurity's drear doom,
And gave his merits to the blaze of day;
Yet Poverty diffus'd its sadd'ning gloom,
And Patronage deny'd its friendly ray.

Oft would his susceptible bosom heave,
To think of Fate's inexorable lot;
Oft would the sad, the just reflexion grieve,
"The world applauded — but the world forgot."

Had the warm sunshine of protecting gold
Beam'd its kind lustre on her hapless son,
Then to the world the sad tale were not told,
That Scotia pities only Burns undone.

No gen'rous hand, with kind indulgent care,
Reach'd its benignant influence to the Bard;
Bade him, while yet alive, life's blessing share,
Or gave to Merit its deserv'd reward.

Ill could his soul, inform'd with genial fire,
And kindled at the Muses' sacred shrine,
Submit to want what Nature must require,
Nor at the melancholy lot repine.

Alas! the conflict prey'd upon his heart,
And dry'd the source of happiness below,
Till Death, with piercing but with friendly dart,
Added a martyr to the lists of woe.

Over his urn let weeping Genius stand,
And mourn his fav'rite's sad untimely grave,
Point to th' instructive tale, with trembling hand,
Which tells a pitiless world refus'd to save—

Refus'd to save whom Poesy had taught
To pour th' inimitable artless line;
Whose breast, with Nature's richest treasures fraught,
Bade sober judgement fiction's rage confine.

Who, like his brother Bards, with native fire
Pour'd the melodious energy of song;
Doom'd too, like them, unpity'd to expire,
Or drag a weary load of life along.

Yet long, O Scotia, shall revolving years
In slow array their circling orbit run,
Ere Genius or Compassion chase their tears
For this thy hapless, thy neglected son.

Oft shall the pensive foot of Genius rest
Near the sad marble which his corpse inurns,
Oft shall Compassion heave her beating breast,
And sigh with pity at the name of Burns!