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Poem by James Milne

To Mr. Burns, on His Poems

On yon green sod what maiden sits,
	Wi’ garland dow’d, and looks forlorn! –
Lord keep the lassie in her wits!
	She sings, and yet me seems to mourn!
Do ye no ken the Scottish muse?
	Here aft she seeks her darling shade:
And aft wi’ tears that grave bedews,
	Where poor Rob Ferguson was laid.
But whisht! she speaks? – “My dearest callan,
	“A sair stroke was thy death to me!
“For, since I lost my winsome Allan,
	“My only hope was sheught in thee?
“Nae mair our verses, smooth and strang,
	“Our men to martial fame incite:
“Or warbled in melodious sang,
	“Our maidens melt wi’ saft delight.
“Our language, banish’d now frae court,
	“(For Scotland has nae court at hame)
“Is lightly’d by the better sort;
	“And ilka coof maun mimic them.
“New-fangled fools gade to the South,
	“And brought frae court new fashion’d frazes,
“That gar our auld anes sound uncouth;
	“And ev’n our mother’s words bombaze us.
“Affected foplings feinzie shame
	“Of ilka thing benorth the Tweed:
“But wha wad fash their head wi’ them!
	“The blockheads scarce a word can read.”
“Ged tak me, Mam, I kennot read
	“Thees your owld-fashion’d vulgar Scotch!”
“Half Scots, half English, they proceed,
	“Smashing baith tongues to base hotch potch.
“We flatter thus a friend, when braw,
	“And cringe to him when gear is sent him
“But when his back is at the wa’,
	“We blush to own that e’er we kent him.
“I little thought ance in a day,
	“When our ain bards sae sweetly sung,
“That glossaries we boot to hae,
	“To teach Scots men their native tongue.
“Or that our sangs, sae peerless good,
	“Thro’ this false taste, this pride new-fangled,
“Boot be, to mak them understood,
	“In English versions, vilely mangled.
“Afore he wrote, bauld Ramsay saw
	“The smeddom o’ our tongue decay;
“His words, as if caukt on a wa’,
	“Were wearing fainter ilka day.
“Yet he in nature’s genuine strains
	“Our feelings sae distinctly draws,
“He’ll ever on his native plains,
	“And foreign too, command applause.
“Our dying tongue, by him reviv’d,
	“At Allan’s death again grew faint:
“Till thou, my Ferguson! arriv’d,
	“And seem’d frae heav’n ance errant sent,
“To teach the warld that simple lays,
	“In nature’s language, reach the heart;
“And frae true genius get the praise
	“Deny’d to stiff refining aft. –
“But Robin’s sp’rit at last is here,
	“Wi’ pleasure smiling on his brow! –
“Whare ha’ ye been, gin ane may speer?
	“And what maks ye sae blyth, my dow?”
“When wand’ring between Ayr and Doon,
	“I saw a laddie at the pleugh:
“But Muse! a sang I heard him crune,
	“That still seems in my lugs to sough.”
“Fallow mortal! why sae hastie;
“Banish terror frae thy breastie;
“Wae’s me for the chance that chac’d thee
	“Frae thy snug housie.”
“’Twas some way that way; and addrest to
	“A till’d-up mousie.
“He loos’d his pleugh. I rade wi’ him
	“On his auld white mare, sonsie Maggie;
“Wha, proud to think she’d live in rhime,
	“Cockt head and tail, like ony staiggie.
“I lookt into his breast, and saw
	“Compassion for his fallow-creature,
“Amang the feelings, ane and a’,
	“That maist embellish human nature.
“I looked up into his head –
	“Gude losh! – What bright poetic fancies!
“A’ striving whilk shou’d hae the lead,
	“In soon-intended rhiming dances.
“True judgement there directed a’,
	“And let them out in proper order;
“Imagination buskt them braw;
	“And memory sat dark-recorder,
“The virtues a’ to recommend
	“Meetly appear’d their common aim;
“But their true motive (weel I kend)
	“Was ardour for poetic fame.
“I saw them plan, in calked lines,
	“Some sleely-jibing admonitions,
“To drive our dour, dull Scots divines
	“Frae gloomy, canting superstitions.
“I saw them plan the Cottar’s ingle;
	“Where happy sat man, wife, lass, callan;
“And, in the general joy to mingle,
	“Ev’n hawkie routs ayont the hallan.
“Frae hawkie comes the halesome feast,
	“On which well-pleas’d they sup or dine;
“And in thae sober draughts maist blest,
	“They never think of costly wine.
“Cracks, tales, and sangs, them canty keep,
	“Till th’ hours bring wonted bed-timeroun’;
“Then sound on caff or strae they sleep,
	“While gentles, sleepless, fret on down.
“Blush, Greatness, at your ill-spent time!
	“To you such bliss is seldom given.
“Can ye conceive the thoughts sublime,
	“On which they rise frae earth to heaven?
“Ablins the while your groveling thoughts
	“Are some infernal purpose brewing,
“To turn them frae their peacefu’ cotts,
	“Or a’ their peace, and Jenny, ruin.
“Thae fancies, when they wad befriend
	“The poor folk, flow in fast succession;
“And when harsh masters they wad bend,
	“Their very tykes bark at oppression.
“They’ll sing in hamely pastoral stile,
	“(For which nae nation e’er cou’d brag us),
“Sangs that will aye gar Scotland smile
	“At whisky, or a good fat haggies.
“In soothing, sympathising strain,
	“They shall revive the heart that mourns.”
“Then cried the Muse, a’ fidging fain,
	“ ‘I see you’ve found my Robbie Burns!
“He frae his birth has been my care!
	“He, till he dies shall be the same;
“And sangs frae him ye’ll shortly hear,
	“To rival yours, and Ramsay’s fame.”
Then crew the cock. The vision fled.
And whare was I? – Just in my bed!
The dream ay fistling in my head,
	I cou’d na rest;
But to write this to Burns, I said,
	I’ll do my best.
My best! – Alake! – Write Burns! – O fy!
What is there Burns can ken me by?
Though sometimes in the Muse’s pye
	I’ve had a finger,
I’ve only shown, I fear, that I
	Am nae great singer.
For had the few lines I hae penn’d
Been worth, they had been better kenn’d.
Conscious mysel they’d thole amend,
	I ne’er durst print them;
But wore them in my pouch t’an end,
	Or brunt or tint them.
Yet I commend your nobler daring,
That, spite of critics and their jarring,
Cou’d bring to light your lines auld-farran,
	That mak sic din;
And they’ve brought gowd to you I’se warran,
	In gowpens in.
I ken ye dinna care a snuff
For a’ the silly fleeching stuff,
“Wi’ which the like o’ me now puff
	Ye in presumption;
For, though few bards be flattery-proof,
	Ye’ve rummle-gumption.
But Lord man! tell me, how is’t wie ye,
When ilka great man that ye fee
Hads out his hand, or jouks to thee?
	Are n’ ye sae fain
Ye’re like to swelt? – I’m sure wer’t me,
	’Twad turn my brain!
Yes, cock (as weel ye may) your crest,
And prize the praises o’ the best!
But tent this: – Feather now your nest.
	Hain for a sair foot.
Syne ye may dine, when some o’ the rest
	Maun lick the hare foot.
Ramsay at first, an’ ’twas his due,
Was courted, prais’d, carest, like you:
That sangs and poets please maist when new,
	He wisely kend;
And still made sangs, an jeesies too,
	And siller hain’d.
Forgot, when auld, (I mind mysell)
He liv’d upon the Castle-hill,
Scarce ane e’er speer’d whare he did dwell,
	Or aught about him.
But what car’d Allan? He cou’d bell
	The cat without them.
Sae prudence bids you business chuse,
And no trust a’ thing to the muse.
O’er aft we’ve seen the jilt misuse
	The best o’ poets;
And mak them fain to pawn their hose,
	For slip-slap diets.
Soon as his friends wi’ praise inflame
The youthfu’ bard to flee at fame,
Quite spoilt for ilka ither game,
	His thoughts tak flight,
And leave his cares, affairs, and hame,
	Clean out o’ sight.
The gowd of a’ thae parts far east,
Whare spite of fame, health, conscience, rest,
E’en ne’er-do-wells soon fill their kist,
	Affects him little:
In poetry he to ding the best,
	Plys a’ his mettle.
The live-lang day his sangs he’ll crune,
To th’ burnie or the breeze’s tune;
But finds, when near life’s afternoon,
	He’s a’ wud wrang:
His shoon, hose, sark, breeks, a’ thing done,
	Except his fang. –
It sets me weel to gie advice!
Have I mysell been aye sae wise?
My game, when I threw lucky dice,
	Have I ne’er sticket?
What have I made my words to splice?
	Made? – Deil be licket.
I’ve seen some wha begoud wi’ less,
On whase head few lay muckle stress,
Wi’ sheep and runts stock, blads o’ grass;
	While I hae nathing,
But meat, drink, health, content, and peace,
	And fire and claithing.
The wyte, when I lay on the muse,
She tells me aye, hersel t’excuse,
That I was ne’er sae gair as those
	Wham wit ca’s dull.
Ye’ll see, quo’ she, spite o’ your nose,
	Wha’s been maist fool.
I hope ye think na to bespatter ye,
Like mony mae wi’ fulsome flattery.
Far less to rouse your anger’s battery,
	Was my intent.
To let ye ken I’d like to clatter wi’ ye,
	Was a’ I meant.
I seldom cringe to wealth or fame,
Or o’ their friendship count the name:
For the maist feck I live at hame,
	A farmer douce,
Amang my bairnies and their dame,
	In this thackt house.
Whare we’d be glad to see ye, Gabbie!
Fine fare I winna hecht. How n’ a’ be,
Although we shou’d hae but ae sybie,
	Ye’se get your skair.
We’ll aye get sa’t to it; and may be,
	Can barrow mair.
I downa bide to hear a glutton
Fraising about fine beef and mutton;
I never ken or care a button
	What I’m to get;
But leave the wife her will to put on
	The pat or spit.
The host dislikt, nae sumptuous fare,
Nae ven’son, turtle, or sic ware,
Wi’ wines maist costly, rich, and rare,
	Which bring some guests,
Shou’d e’er mak me green to come near
	Him or his feasts.
My mind in this ye partly see. –
Gif ye dislike it, let it be. –
But gif it chance to please, and ye
	Think it worth while,
Eastward frae Edinbrugh by the sea,
	But fourteen mile;
Ride through the town o’ Prestonpans;
Three miles ayont that leave the sands;
Then ither twa thro’ gude rich lands,
	You’ll find Loch-hill,
And, ready to rin at your commands,
	Your friend

James Milne

Poem Theme: Robert Burns

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