1784
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Stanzas on the Same Occasion [in Prospect of Death].

Poems, chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, by Robert Burns.

Robert Burns


Three devotional Spenserians, written in 1784 and published in 1787. The poem sometimes appeared with "in the Manner of Beattie's Minstrel" in the title, referring to the stanza rather than the mode.

Robert Burns to William Dunbar: "In justice to Spenser I must acknowledge that there is scarcely a poet in the language could have been a more agreeable present to me; and in justice to you, allow me to say, Sir, that I have not met with a man in Edinburgh to whom I would so willingly have been indebted for the gift. The tattered rhymes I herewith present you, and the handsome volumes of Spenser for which I am indebted to your goodness, may perhaps be not in proportion to one another, but be that as it may, my gift, though far less valuable, is as sincere a mark of esteem as yours" 30 April 1787; in Works, ed. Douglas (1877-79) 4:223-24; and: "I am the fool of my feelings and attachments. — I often take up a volume of my Spenser to realize you to my imagination, and think over the social scenes we have had together. — God grant that there may be another world more congenial to honest fellows, beyond this" 2 February 1790; in Letters, ed. Roy (1985) 2:5.

Anna Seward to Helen Maria Williams: "No, indeed, I quarrel not with Burns for his high Scotch; so far from it, that all my favourite parts of his compositions are in the broad Caledonian dialect. It is when he writes in English that his imagination flags and dwindles into ill-judged plagiarism.... I feel very much, as you do, about the Yearsley and the Burns. They are both miracles. His imagination is more luxuriant; and if it has more weeds, it has also many flowers, and some of them are most beautifully and originally tinted. Perhaps she has more depth and strength of thought; but I much oftener, and shall continue much oftener to look into his works than her's, for they have sweeter poetic witchery. His Vision; the descriptive part of The Winter's Night, for the sentimental part is trite; the dear Brigs of Ayr; the Cotttager's Saturday Night; the Mouse, and the Mountain Daisy, enchant me;" 25 December 1787; Letters, ed. Scott (1811) 1:393-95.

Gentleman's Magazine: "Of Burns, the Airshire ploughman, the poems, selected to attract the notice of the publick, were certainly eminently beautiful; but an examination of the other compositions in his book does not confirm the same degree of admiration" Anonymous, "Living English Poets" 63 (August 1792) 691.

John Wilson: "Strong charges have been brought against the general character of his writings, and by men who, being ministers of the Christian religion, may be supposed well imbued with its spirit. They have decreed the poetry of Burns to be hostile to morality and religion. Now, if this be indeed the case, it is most unaccountable that such compositions should have become universally popular among a grave, thoughtful, affectionate, and pious peasantry — and that the memory of Burns, faulty and frail as his human character was, should be cherished by them with an enthusiastic fondness and admiration, as if they were all bound to him by ties strong as those of blood itself. The poems of Burns do in fact form a part of the existence of the Scottish peasantry — the purest hearts and the most intelligent minds are the best acquainted with them — and they are universally considered as a subject of rejoicing pride, as a glory belonging to men in low estate, and which the peasant feels to confer on him the privilege of equality with the highest in the land. It would he a gross and irrational libel on the national character of our people to charge Robert Burns with being an immoral and irreligious poet" "Burns and the Ettrick Shepherd" Blackwood's Magazine 4 (February 1819) 526.

William Howitt: "True, before him there had been a Stephen Duck, and a Robert Dodsley, — glow-worms preceding the morning star; wonders, because the day of genuine minds had not yet come; respectable men, but not geniuses of that Titanic stamp which, by its very appearance, puts an end to every question as to its rank or nature in the utter astonishment at its gigantic presence. There have been many small geniuses paraded before the public as curiosities, because they were uneducated; but when Burns came forth from the crowd of his fellow men, it was as the poet of the people; issuing like Moses from the cloud of God's presence, with a face so radiant with divine light, that the greatest prophets of the schools were dazzled at the apparition. He needed no apologies of want of academic discipline; he was a man with all the gifts and powers of a man, fresh and instinctive in their strength, as if direct from the Creator's hand. Burns was the representative of the common man in representative perfection. He was a combination of all the powers and failings, the strength and the weakness of human nature. He had the great intellect of such a specimen man, awakened to its full consciousness, but not polished to the loss of any of its prominences" Homes and Haunts of the ... British Poets (1847) 1:342.



Why am I loth to leave this earthly scene?
Have I so found it full of pleasing charms?
Some drops of joy with draughts of ill between;
Some gleams of sunshine mid renewing storms:
Is it some departing pangs my soul alarms?
Or Death's unlovely, dreary, dark abode?
For guilt, for guilt, my terrors are in arms;
I tremble to approach an angry GOD,
And justly smart beneath his sin-avenging rod.

Fain would I say, "Forgive my foul offence!"
Fain promise never more to disobey;
But, should my Author health again dispense,
Again I might desert fair Virtue's way;
Again in folly's path might go astray;
Again exalt the brute and sink the man;
Then how should I for Heavenly Mercy pray,
Who act so counter Heavenly Mercy's plan?
Who sin so oft have mourn'd, yet to temptation ran?

O Thou, Great Governor of all below!
If I may dare a lifted eye to Thee,
Thy nod can make the tempest cease to blow,
Or still the tumult of the raging sea:
With that controuling pow'r assist ev'n me,
Those headlong, furious passions to confine;
For all unfit I feel my powers to be,
To rule their torrent in th' allowed line;
O, aid me with Thy help, Ominpotence Divine!

[pp. 238-40]