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Poem by Robert Burns

The Holy Fair

       A robe of seeming truth and trust
           Hid crafty Observation;
       And secret hung, with poison'd crust,
           The dirk of Defamation:

       A mask that like the gorget show'd,
           Dye-varying on the pigeon;
       And for a mantle large and broad,
           He wrapt him in Religion.

                                Hypocrisy A-La-Mode

UPON a simmer Sunday morn,
  When Nature’s face is fair,
I walked forth to view the corn,
  An’ snuff the caller air.
The risin’ sun, owre Galston muirs,
  Wi’ glorious light was glintin’;
The hares were hirplin’ down the furrs,
  The lav’rocks they were chantin’
        Fu’ sweet that day.

As lightsomely I glowr’d abroad,
  To see a scene sae gay,
Three hizzies, early at the road,
  Cam skelpin’ up the way.
Twa had manteeles o’ dolefu’ black,
  But ane wi’ lyart lining;
The third, that gaed a wee a-back,
  Was in the fashion shining
        Fu’ gay that day.

The twa appear’d like sisters twin,
  In feature, form, an’ claes;
Their visage wither’d, lang an’ thin,
  An’ sour as ony slaes:
The third cam up, hap-stap-an’-lowp,
  As light as ony lambie,
An’ wi’ a curchie low did stoop,
  As soon as e’er she saw me,
        Fu’ kind that day.

Wi’ bonnet aff, quoth I, ‘Sweet lass,
  I think ye seem to ken me;
I’m sure I’ve seen that bonnie face,
  But yet I canna name ye.’
Quo’ she, an’ laughin’ as she spak,
  An’ taks me by the hands,
‘Ye, for my sake, has gi’en the feck
  Of a’ the ten commands
        A screed some day.

‘My name is Fun-your crony dear,
  The nearest friend ye hae;
An’ this is Superstition here,
  An’ that’s Hypocrisy.
I’m gaun to Mauchline Holy Fair,
  To spend an hour in daffin’:
Gin ye’ll go there, yon runkled pair,
  We will get famous laughin’
        At them this day.’

Quoth I, ‘Wi’ a’ my heart, I’ll do’t;
  I’ll get my Sunday’s sark on,
An’ meet you on the holy spot;
  Faith, we’se hae fine remarkin’!’
Then I gaed hame at crowdie-time,
  An’ soon I made me ready;
For roads were clad, frae side to side,
  Wi’ mony a wearie bodie
        In droves that day.

Here farmers gash in ridin’ graith
  Gaed hoddin’ by their cotters;
There swankies young in braw braid-claith
  Are springin’ owre the gutters.
The lasses, skelpin’ barefit, thrang,
  in silks an’ scarlets glitter,
WI’ sweet-milk cheese, in mony a whang,
  An’ farls bak’d wi’ butter,
        Fu’ crump that day.

When by the plate we set our nose,
  Weel heaped up wi’ ha’pence,
A greedy glow’r Black Bonnet throws,
  An’ we maun draw our tippence.
Then in we go to see the show:
  On ev’ry side they’re gath’rin’;
Some carryin’ deals, some chairs an’ stool;
  An’ some are busy bleth’rin’
        Right loud that day.

Here stands a shed to fend the show’rs,
  An’ screen our country gentry;
There racer Jess an’ twa-three whores
  Are blinkin’ at the entry.
Here sits a raw o’ tittlin’ jades,
  Wi’ heavin’ breasts an’ bare neck,
An’ there a batch o’ wabster lads,
  Blackguardin’ frae Kilmarnock
        For fun this day.

Here some are thinkin’ on their sins,
  An’ some upo’ their claes;
Ane curses feet that fyl’d his shins,
  Anither sighs an’ prays:
On this hand sits a chosen swatch,
  Wi’ screw’d up, grace-proud faces;
On that a set o’ chaps, at watch,
  Thrang winkin’ on the lasses
        To chairs that day.

O happy is that man an’ blest!
  Nae wonder that it pride him!
Wha’s ain dear lass, that he likes best,
  Comes clinkin’ down beside him!
Wi’ arm repos’d on the chair-back
  He sweetly does compose him;
Which, by degrees, slips round her neck,
  An’s loof upon her bosom,
        Unkenn’d that day.

Now a’ the congregation o’er
  Is silent expectation;
For Moodie speels the holy door,
  Wi’ tidings o’ damnation.
Should Hornie, as in ancient days,
  ‘Mang sons o’ God present him,
The very sight o’ Moodie’s face
  To ‘s ain het hams had sent him
        Wi’ fright that day.

Hear how he clears the points o’ faith
  Wi’ rattlin’ an’ wi’ thumpin’!
Now meekly calm, now wild in wrath,
  He ‘s stampin’ an’ he ‘s jumpin’!
His lengthen’d chin, his turned-up snout,
  His eldritch squeal an’ gestures,
O how they fire the heart devout,
  Like cantharidian plaisters,
        On sic a day!

But, hark! the tent has chang’d its voice;
  There ‘s peace an’ rest nae langer;
For a’ the real judges rise,
  They canna sit for anger.
Smith opens out his cauld harangues,
  On practice and on morals;
An’ aff the godly pour in thrangs
  To gie the jars an’ barrels
        A lift that day.

What signifies his barren shine
  Of moral pow’rs an’ reason?
His English style an’ gesture fine
  Are a’ clean out o’ season.
Like Socrates or Antonine,
  Or some auld pagan Heathen,
The moral man he does define,
  But ne’er a word o’ faith in
        That ‘s right that day.

In guid time comes an antidote
  Against sic poison’d nostrum;
For Peebles, frae the water-fit,
  Ascends the holy rostrum:
See, up he ‘s got the word o’ God,
  An’ meek an’ mim has view’d it,
While Common Sense has ta’en the road,
  An’ aff, an’ up the Cowgate
        Fast, fast, that day.

Wee Miller, neist, the Guard relieves,
  An’ Orthodoxy raibles,
Tho’ in his heart he weel believes,
  An’ thinks it auld wives’ fables:
But, faith! the birkie wants a Manse,
  So cannilie he hums them;
Altho’ his carnal wit an’ sense
  Like hafflins-wise o’ercomes him
        At times that day.

Now, butt an’ ben, the Change-house fills,
  Wi’ yill-caup Commentators;
Here ‘a crying out for bakes an’ gills,
  An’ there the pint-stowp clatters;
While thick an’ thrang, an’ loud an’ lang,
  Wi’ logic, an’ wi’ Scripture,
They raise a din, that in the end
  Is like to breed a rupture
        O’ wrath that day.

Leeze me on drink! it gi’es us mair
  Than either school or college:
It kindles wit, it waukens lair,
  It pangs us fou o’ knowledge.
Be’t whisky gill, or penny wheep,
  Or ony stronger potion,
It never fails, on drinkin’ deep,
  To kittle up our notion
        By night or day.

The lads an’ lasses, blythely bent
  To mind baith saul an’ body,
Sit round the table, weel content,
  An’ steer about the toddy.
On this ane’s dress, an’ that ane’s leuk,
  They’re makin observations;
While some are cosy i’ the neuk,
  An’ formin’ assignations
        To meet some day.

But now the Lord’s ain trumpet touts,
  Till a’ the hills are rairin’,
An’ echoes back return the shouts;
  Black Russel is na sparin’:
His piercing words, like Highlan’ swords,
  Divide the joints an’ marrow;
His talk o’ Hell, where devils dwell,
  Our very ‘sauls does harrow’
        Wi’ fright that day!

A vast, unbottom’d, boundless pit,
  Fill’d fou o’ lowin’ brunstane,
Wha’s ragin’ flame, an’ scorchin’ heat,
  Wad melt the hardest whun-stane!
The half-asleep start up wi’ fear
  An’ think they hear it roarin’,
When presently it does appear
  ‘Twas but some neebor snorin’
        Asleep that day.

‘Twad be owre lang a tale to tell
  How mony stories past,
An’ how they crowded to the yill,
  When they were a’ dismist;
How drink gaed round, in cogs an’ caups,
  Amang the furms and benches;
An’ cheese an’ bread, frae women’s laps,
  Was dealt about in lunches,
        An’ dawds that day.

In comes a gawsie, gash guidwife,
  An’ sits down by the fire,
Syne draws her kebbuck an’ her knife;
  The lasses they are shyer.
The auld guidmen, about the grace,
  Frae side to side they bother,
Till some ane by his bonnet lays,
  An’ gi’es them’t like a tether,
        Fu’ lang that day.

Waesucks! for him that gets nae lass,
  Or lasses that hae naething!
Sma’ need has he to say a grace,
  Or melvie his braw claithing!
O wives, be mindfu’, ance yoursel
  How bonnie lads ye wanted,
An’ dinna for a kebbuck-heel
  Let lasses be affronted
        On sic a day!

Now Clinkumbell, wi’ rattlin’ tow,
  Begins to jow an’ croon;
Some swagger hame the best they dow,
  Some wait the afternoon.
At slaps the billies halt a blink,
  Till lasses strip their shoon:
Wi’ faith an’ hope, an’ love an’ drink,
  They’re a’ in famous tune
        For crack that day.

How mony hearts this day converts
  O’ sinners and o’ lasses!
Their hearts o’ stane, gin night, are gane
  As saft as ony flesh is.
There ‘s some are fou o’ love divine,
  There’s some are fou o’ brandy;
An’ mony jobs that day begin,
  May end in houghmagandie
        Some ither day.

Robert Burns

Robert Burns's other poems:
  1. The Sailor’s Song
  2. Evan Banks
  3. The Rantin’ Dog the Daddie O’t
  4. Had I The Wyte
  5. The Fete Champetre

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