1797 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Burns

A Mourner, "On the Death of Burns" Edinburgh Magazine or Literary Miscellany NS 9 (April 1797) 296-97.



What adverse fate awaits the tuneful train!
Has Otway died and Spencer liv'd in vain?
In vain has Collins, Fancy's pensive child,
Pour'd his lone plaint by Aron's windings wild?
And Savage, on Misfortune's bosom bred,
Bar'd to the howling storm his houseless head?
Who gentle Shenstone's fate can hear unmov'd,
By virtue, elegance, and genius lov'd?
Yet, pensive wand'ring o'er his native plain,
His plaints confessed he lov'd the Muse in vain;
Chill Penury invades his favourite bower,
Blasts every scene, and withers every flower;
His warning Muse to Prudence turn'd her strain,
But Prudence sung to thoughtless bards in vain;
Still restless Fancy drives them headlong on,
With dreams of wealth, and friends, and laurels won—
On Ruin's brink they sleep, and wake undone.

And see where Caledonia's Genius mourns,
And plants the holly round the grave of BURNS:
But late its "polish'd leaves and berries red
Play'd graceful round the rural poet's head,"
And while with manly force and native fire
He wak'd the genuine Caledonian lyre,
Tweed's severing flood exulting heard her tell,
Not Roman wreaths the holly could excell;
Not Tiber's stream, along Campania's plain,
More pleas'd convey'd the gay Horatian strain,
Than bonny Doon, or fairy-haunted Ayr,
That wont his rustic melody to share,
Resound along their banks the pleasing theme,
Sweet as their murmurs, copious as their stream;
And RAMSAY, once the Horace of the North,
Who charm'd with varied strains the listening Forth,
Bequeath'd to him the shrewd peculiar art
To Satire nameless graces to impart,
To wield her weapons with such sportive ease,
That, while they wound, they dazzle and they please:
But when he sung to the attentive plain,
The humble virtues of the Patriarch swain,
His evening worship, and his social meal,
And all a parent's pious heart can feel,
To genuine worth we bow submissive down,
And wish the Cottar's lowly shed our own;
With fond regard our native land we view,
Its cluster'd hamlets, and its mountains blue,
Our "virtuous populace," a nobler boast
Than all the wealth of either India's coast.
Yet while our hearts with admiration burn,
Too soon we learn that "man was made to mourn,"
The independent wish, the taste refin'd,
The energies of the superior mind,
And Feeling's generous pangs, and Fancy's glow,
And all that liberal Nature could bestow,
To him profusely gives, yet given in vain;
Misfortune aids and points the stings of pain.

How blest, when wand'ring by his native Ayr,
He "woo'd the willing Muse," unknown to care!
But when fond Admiration spread his name,
A candidate for fortune and for fame,
In evil hour he left the tranquil shade
Where Youth and Love with Hope and Fancy play'd;
Yet rainbow-colours gild the novel scene,
Deceitful fortune sweetly smil'd like JEAN,
Now courted oft by the licentious gay,
With them thro' devious paths behold him stray,
The opening rose conceals the latent thorn,
Convivial hours prolong'd awake the morn,
Ev'n Reason's sacred pow'r is drown'd in wine,
And Genius lays her wreath on Folly's shrine;
Too sure, alas! the world's unfeeling train
Corrupt the simple manners of the swain,
The blushing Muse indignant scorns his lays,
And Fortune frowns, and honest fame decays,
Till low on earth he lays his sorrowing head,
And sinks untimely 'midst the vulgar dead.
Yet while for him belov'd, admir'd in vain,
Thus fond Regret pours forth her plaintive strain,
While Fancy, Feeling, Taste, their griefs rehearse,
And deck with artless tears his mournful hearse,
See Cunning, Dullness, Ignorance, and Pride,
Exulting o'er his grave, in triumph ride,
And boast, "tho' Genius, Humour, Wit agree,"
Cold selfish Prudence far excels the three,
Nor think, while grovelling on the earth they go,
How few can mount so high to fall so low.
Thus Vandals, Goths, and Huns exulting come,
T' insult the ruins of majestic Rome:
But ye who honour Genius — sacred beam!
From holy light a bright ethereal gleam,
Ye whom his happier verse has taught to glow,
Now to his ashes pay the debt you owe.
Draw Pity's veil o'er his concluding scene,
And let the stream of bounty flow for JEAN.
The mourning matron and her infant train
Will own you did not love the Muse in vain,
While Sympathy with liberal hand appears,
To aid the orphans wants, and dry the widow's tears.