1797 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Burns

William Roscoe, "Lines to the Memory of R. Burns" Scots Magazine 59 (January 1797) 51-52.



Portentous sang the hollow blast,
That, sorrow-freighted, southward past;
I heard the sound and stood aghast
In solemn dread;
The mournful truth is told at last,
For Burns is dead.

Ah? sweetest minstrel? Nature's child?
Could not thy native wood-notes wild,
Thy manly sense, thy manners mild,
And sprightly glee,
The ghastly tyrant have beguil'd
To set thee free?

Unfriended, desolate, and young,
Misfortune o'er thy cradle hung,
And penury had check'd thy song,
But check'd in vain;
Till death, with unrelenting pang,
Has clos'd the strain.

Thus, midst the cold of winter's snows,
The bright and naked snow-drop blows
Awhile in native beauty glows,
And charms the eyes,
Till past some ruthless spoiler goes
And crops the prize!

But not for thee, O Bard, the lot
In cold oblivion's shade to rot,
Like those unhonour'd and forgot,
Th' unfeeling great
Who knew thy worth, but hastened not
To sooth thy fate.

Whilst Love to Beauty pours the sigh;
Whilst Genius shall with Nature vie;
Whilst Pity, from the melting eye,
Shall claim regard,
Thy honour'd name shall never die,
Immortal Bard.

But oft as Winter o'er the plain
Shall pour at eve the beating rain,
The Hind shall call his social train
Around the fire,
To listen to some thrilling strain
Of thy lov'd lyre.

Whether to "Heaven's eternal King,"
Thou strike the deep resounding string,
Whilst rising on devotion's wing
Hope soars above,
To happier realms of endless spring,
And boundless love:

Or whether lighter themes beguile
The moment of relaxing toil,
Bidding on Labour's front the smile
Of Pleasure sit,
The roof re-echoing all the while
To genuine wit:

Or if wild Fancy seize the rein,
Whilst Horror thrills thro' every vein,
And sp'rits and elves, an awful train,
Their orgies keep;
Or warlocks o'er the frighted plain
At midnight sweep.

As works the spell, the list'ning band
Aghast in mute attention stand;
Again thou wav'st thy magic wand
Of power so rare,
And all the scene, by Fancy plann'd
Dissolves in air.

Thine too, the charm of social hearts,
Where wit its vivid lightning darts,
And converse keen to age imparts
The fire of youth,
While from the fierce concussion starts
The spark of truth.

What tho' thy bold untutored strain
The Critic's pedant laws disdain;
Not all the wire-cadg'd minion train
E'er pour'd a note,
So sweet as echoing o'er the plain
The "Wood-lark's" throat.

Old Coila, first whose brakes among
Thy infant hands the wild harp strung,
Shall flourish in thy deathless song
With lasting fame,
And Ayr shall henceforth roll along
A classic stream.

But thou, O! bard, in Silence laid,
Ah! what shall soothe thy pensive shade,
For worth of genius ill repaid,
With bounty scant;
And hours of sorrow unallay'd,
And pain, and want!

See o'er thy song, as loud it swells,
The lordly Thane delighted dwells,
Or to his fair his rapture tells,
By thee inspir'd.
Her bosom, as the strain impells,
Or thaw'd, or fir'd.

Around him, see, to guard his state,
A train of pamper'd minions wait,
And see, to form his daily treat
Each climate join,
Where Iceland's frost, and Asia's heat,
Their gifts combine.

Yet whilst he revels unconfin'd,
Through all the treasures of thy mind,
No generous boon to thee consign'd,
Relieves thy care;
To folly or to vice assign'd,
What pomp can spare.

For riches withheld, or freedom sold,
Corruption asks the promis'd gold;
Or in licentious splendor bold,
His titled fame,
Squanders in riot uncontroul'd
What worth should claim.

From hill to hill, from plain to plain,
Extend the Chieftain's proud domain,
That, half a desart, asks in vain
For culture due;
Whilst cold inaction chills thy vein,
And rusts thy plow.

Meanwhile thy youthful vigour flies,
The forms of age unpitying rise,
And wounded superstition tries
To thwart thy way;
And loath'd dependence ambush'd lies
To seize his prey.

Yet high above thy reptile foes
Thy towering soul unconquer'd rose,
Love of the muse their charms disclose,
The hags retire,
And thy expanding bosom glows
With heavenly fire.

Go, builder of a deathless name,
Thy country's glory and her shame:
Go, and th' immortal guerdon claim
To genius due!
While rolling centuries thy fame
Shall still renew.