1788 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Burns

J. J—n, "Epistle to Mr. Robert Burns" Scots Magazine 50 (November 1788) 558-59.



Fair fa' ye, honest rhyming Rab,
For a' your dainty, weel-turn'd gab;
It gars me claw as wi' the scab
For very glee:
A plack mair than wi' ony knab
I'd drink wi' thee.

Wha wu'd hae thought, a kintry chield,
That jimply had frae storm a bield,
And a' his days the yird had till'd,
Sae cruse cou'd craw?
Wi' ony menstral of your eild
Ye'd shake a fa'.

For a' the bards that's rais'd their sugh,
When aince ye yoke your sturdy pleuch,
Ye shaw there still is ground eneuch
No yet ta'en in:
Awa' ye skreed, the wark tho' teuch,
Thro' heath or win,

Your ingine, like a coutter glib
That ev'ry weyward weed can snib,
Casts up — I wadna like to fib,
Your verse sae trig,
It's to a weel-pleuch'd acre sib
In fur and rigg.

But whan ye tak your murd'ring pattle,
And summon ony chield to battle,
You len' him sic a vitious rattle,
A mouse I'd be,
Far rather than that ye shou'd ettle
Sic straikes at me.

Your Muse is sic a feckfu' beast,
She's no, like mine, aft gi'en to riest,
Nor slacks she brecham on her breast,
Nor needs she gaod;
Tho' gin she sees a dand'ring priest,
Sair snorts the yade.

Weel do I ken the banks of Ayr,
And Luggar's rocks, for I ha' there
Spent mony a day (and laucht at care):
But syn I kent
That ye was near, I've rued fu' fair
My time misspent.

And thoch I'm now richt sweir to budge,
To Coila's bony plains I'd trudge,
And a' my travel wadna grudge,
Gin ye wad say't,
"Cum here and tak a pint hudgemudge;"
For I'm but blate.

And thoch I'm fankit i' my tether,
And dinna thole ilk kind o' weather,
That we micht hae a spell thegither
A nicht or twae,
I'd leave the best bed made o' feather
For ane o strae.

Ae bard shou'd stick like hand and glove,
To ilka brither in true luve,
And ne'er let envy's ruthless hoove
Crush out its saul;
But leal and honest ay shou'd pruve,
And ne'er divall.

We're a' like birds hatch'd in ae nest,
A lav'rock ca't, gin't fit you best:
Ane sings, like you, 'boon a' the rest,
And soars like th' eagle:
By weakness o' my pipe confess'd,
I'm wally-draggle.

But yet ye manna tak it ill
That ony brither o' the quill
(Tho' he kythe little but guid-will)
Gi's best advice,
Nor prance as gin ye'd gott'n a pill
O' priming spice.

The wrig that near the ground man flutter,
Tho' naithing but a feckless twitter,
May hear the greedy gled's dread clutter,
And ane fu' hich
That soars, save frae a death right bitter
Wi' its bit skriech.

And first, misken na bonny Jean,
Wha's ay, tho' haimly, dink and clean,
For ony glaiket town-bred quean,
Wha tries atrour ye
To cast the glammer o' her e'en
Just to devour ye.

Wi' frizzled pow, like Blackamoor,
And plaister'd face, like some auld w—e,
And rump, as gin she gaed on four,
Auld simple Nature,
To ken her scarce is't in my pow'r
For thy ain creature!

Your Maker's praise ye well can sing
Whan aince ye twitch that pleasant string;
And may your voice gar yon vau't ring,
When here its gane!
But wi't a gude tune it man bring,
Or twilt hae nane.

The craw is herse upon a tree,
As weel's when craiking on the lee;
The place nae change o' note can gie;
He's ay a craw:
Its craik is better heard on hie,
And that is a'.

Tho' he cou'd twitch yon starry lift,
It wadna gi'm a lav'rock's gift,
'T man surely then be our best thrift
Richt notes to learn
While here; we're cum to our last shift,
Whan laid in cairn.

O'er mony a field I'se warn ye've stottit,
Whan cum the seed-time Heav'n allottit:
But tell me, hae na ye ever notit
The seed that grew
The sam' be't soon or late ye got it,
Wi' that ye sew?

Ye've aftin seen the weel-fill'd hap
Its rough seed cast in earth's wide lap;
But did ye ever ken it hap
That frae its seed
A pear-tree rais'd its flow'ry tap
And its fruit gi'd?

Your metre weel eneuch wad scan,
Tho' ye did neither curse nor ban,
It looks na weel in ony man
That Name to skaith
By whilk the very breath is drawn
That forms ane aith.

And gin ye really trow the Bible,
However miekle ye sou'd scribble,
Ne'er like ane allevoly fribble
Gi' it a sneer:
There's fouk eneuch at it to nibble,
Tho' bards keep clear.

Waefuck! there's little made by scoffin,
Death puts an end to a' sic daffin;
Whan you or I are laid in coffin,
But ill 'twou'd tell,
Gin fouk shou'd say, "there lies a ruffian
That laucht at h—ll."

Your forbeir, wha in Salem sang,
Tho' aft he gaed richt far wrang,
(And wha's bot failings men amang?)
And aft ill-seated,
Ne'er into scorner's chair wad bang;
Sic wark he hated.

And tho' frae some fouk ye may differ,
(Wha wadna like wi' you to niffer)
Than's needfu' thinking them far stiffer,
To fill their shoon
Ye'd aiblins twin wi' your best heifer
Or a' be done.

Their lack o' charity ye blame,
'Gainst them as hypocrites exclaim,
Wha sic a life as yours condemn:
But some are grudging
That ye are tarr'd as thick as them
The heart in judging.

There's mony wha to faith lay claim,
Whose lives wou'd put gude warks to shame,
But their faith is na worth the name,
Its a' presumption:
Yet to like faith, the waur for them,
Wou'd kythe sma' gumshon.

True faith and warks are sib to ither
And where sincere gang ay thegither;
But ye man mind that Faith's the mither
And Warks the weans.
As lang as ye about this swither,
Ye lose your pains.

'Cause sum fouk winna curse nor drink
Its e'en richt hard that ye shou'd think,
They do as ill when ithers wink:
The pruif's fair striding,
Whan ye man flee, to fill a chink,
To "th' art o' hiding."

You man! ye at the clergy bicker,
As gin ye'd sworn a league fu' sicker,
And sign'd it wi' your heart's red liquor
A' theirs to spill.
Ane maist wad think sum kintry vicar
Had us'd ye ill.

Ye've aiblins sat the cuttie-stool
For some bit brat that cust the hule,
And, like a calf, there dried sic dule,
As left you wishing
Yourself a stot, tho' else a snull
But in priest-pushing.

Auld Cloots and you are unco cosh,
To him ye mak your tale as tosh
As gin ye'd drunk out o' ae dush
Till ye were kedgy;
Or cheek for chow held up your gash
At Mass John's dredgy.

But in your lug tho' he be bizzin
That ye're his weel beloved cousin,
And bid ye heart'ly weet your wizen
And lauch at doom;
He'll neither hear your rhyme nor reason,
Your glass when tum.

E'en now he's lauchin in his sleeve
Sae carelesslie to see you scrieve,
And that yoursell ye sou'd believe
Sae wondrous supple
As jink him, or 'bout his reprieve
Indulge ae scruple.

And as your luve to him's nae sma',
And weel ye like the lasses bra',
Tak tent, his claim to th' haill to shaw
And stap a' quarrels,
He dinna pu' your nizz awa
By way o' arrils.

Your Cottar's night agrees nae weel
Wi' your epistle to the Deill;
And diff'rent qualms ye seem to feel
When Death cums near ye,
Than whan to Holy fair ye reel
Wi' scoffs to cheer ye.

If something tells ye a's nae richt,
And gies ye now and than a fricht,
Be sure its warnings dinna flicht;
The house dividit
Against itsell is far frae ticht;
Ye cann hide it.

Tho' wi' a winze a priest commend,
And by the slump you praises send,
Wha e'en sum gude advice sou'd lend,
Yet ye man mind,
Its nae the first time we hae kend
Blind lead the blind.

Frae hally book we only hear
Of ae priest who begoud to swear;
Nor was he in his aiths, I fear,
Sair to be trustit:
I cost him mony a richt saut tear
Or he o'ercust it.

Your conscience ye may gie to keep
To sicklike fouk to help it sleep,
And think me but a "gouket sliep"
And scorn ane answer:
But dinna haud that friend o'er cheap,
Who dares to censure.
F—r.