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Poem by Robert Burns


The Twa Dogs


’TWAS in that place o’ Scotland’s Isle,
That bears the name o’ auld King Coil,
Upon a bonnie day in June,
When wearin’ through the afternoon,
Twa dogs, that werena thrang at hame,
Forgather’d ance upon a time.

  The first I’ll name, they ca’d him Caesar,
Was keepit for his Honour’s pleasure;
His hair, his size, his mouth, his lugs,
Show’d he was nane o’ Scotland’s dogs,
But whalpit some place far abroad,
Where sailors gang to fish for cod.
  His locked, letter’d, braw brass collar,
Shew’d him the gentleman and scholar;
But though he was o’ high degree,
The fient a pride, nae pride had he;
But wad has spent ane hour caressin’
E’en wi’ a tinkler-gipsy’s messan:
At kirk or market, mill or smiddie,
Nae tawted tyke, though e’er sae duddie,
But he wad stand as glad to see him,
An’ stroan’d on stanes an’ hillocks wi’ him.

  The tither was a ploughman’s collie,
A rhyming, ranting, raving billie;
Wha for his friend and comrade had him,
And in his freaks had Luath ca’d him,
After some dog in Highland sang,
Was made lang syne-Lord knows how lang.

  He was a gash an’ faithfu’ tyke,
As ever lap a sheugh or dyke;
His honest, sonsie, bawsent face
Aye gat him friends in ilka place.
His breast was white, his tousle back
Weel clad wi’ coat o’ glossy black;
His gawsie tail, wi’ upward curl,
Hung o’er his hurdies wi’ a swirl.

  Nae doubt but they were fain o’ ither,
And unco pack and thick thegither;
Wi’ social nose whyles snuff’d and snowkit;
Whyles mice and moudieworts they howkit;
Whyles scour’d awa in lang excursion,
And worried ither in diversion;
Until wi’ daffin’ weary grown,
Upon a knowe they sat them down,
And there began a lang digression
About the lords of the creation.

      CAESAR.

I’ve aften wonder’d, honest Luath,
What sort o’ life poor dogs like you have;
An’ when the gentry’s life I saw,
What way poor bodies liv’d ava.

  Our Laird gets in his racked rents,
His coals, his kain, and a’ his stents;
He rises when he likes himsel’;
His flunkies answer at the bell:
He ca’s his coach; he ca’s his horse;
He draws a bonny silken purse
As lang’s my tail, where, through the steeks,
The yellow-letter’d Geordie keeks.
  Frae morn to e’en it’s nought but toiling
At baking, roasting, frying, boiling;
And though the gentry first are stechin’,
Yet e’en the ha’ folk fill their pechan
Wi’ sauce, ragouts, and sic like trashtrie,
That’s little short o’ downright wastrie.
Our whipper-in, wee blastit wonner!
Poor worthless elf! it eats a dinner
Better than ony tenant man
His Honour has in a’ the lan’;
An’ what poor cot-folk pit their painch in,
I own it’s past my comprehension.

      LUATH.

Trowth, Caeaar, whylee they’re fash’d eneugh;
A cottar howkin’ in a sheugh,
Wi’ dirty stanes biggin’ a dyke,
Baring a quarry, and sic like;
Himsel’, a wife, he thus sustains,
A smytrie o’ wee duddy weana,
And nought but his han’-darg to keep
Them right and tight in thack and rape.
  And when they meet wi’ sair disasters,
Like loss o’ health, or want o’ masters,
Ye maist wad think, a wee touch langer
And they maun starve o’ cauld and hunger;
But how it comes I never kent yet,
They’re maistly wonderfu’ contented;
An’ buirdly ohiels and clever hizzies
Are bred in sic a way as this is.

      CAESAR.

But then, to see how ye’re negleckit,
How huff’d, and cuff’d, and disrespeckit,
Lord, man! our gentry care sae little
For delvers, ditchers and sic cattle;
They gang as saucy by poor folk
As I wad by a stinking brock.
  I’ve noticed, on our Laird’s court-day,
An’ mony a time my heart’s been wae,
Poor tenant bodies, scant o’ cash,
How they maun thole a factor’s snash;
He’ll stamp and threaten, curse and swear,
He’ll apprehend them, poind their gear:
While they maun stan’, wi’ aspect humble,
An’ hear it a’, an’ fear an’ tremble!
I see how folk live that hae riches;
But surely poor folk maun be wretches!

      LUATH.

They’re no’ sae wretched ‘s ane wad think,
Though constantly on poortith’s brink:
They’re sae accustom’d wi’ the sight,
The view o’t gi’es them little fright.
  Then chance and fortune are sae guided,
They’re aye in less or mair provided;
An’ though fatigued wi’ close employment,
A blink o’ rest’s a sweet enjoyment.
  The dearest comfort o’ their lives,
Their grushie weans an’ faithfu’ wives;
The prattling things are just their pride,
That sweetens a’ their fireside.
  And whyles twalpenny-worth o’ nappy
Can mak the bodies unco happy;
They lay aside their private cares
To mind the Kirk and State affairs:
They’ll talk o’ patronage and priests,
Wi’ kindling fury in their breasts;
Or tell what new taxation ‘s comin’,
And ferlie at the folk in Lon’on.
  As bleak faced Hallowmas returns
They get the jovial rantin’ kirns,
When rural life o’ every station
Unite in common recreation;
Love blinks, Wit slaps, and social Mirth
Forgets there’s Care upo’ the earth.
  That merry day the year begins
They bar the door on frosty win’s;
The nappy reeks wi’ mantling ream,
And sheds a heart-inspiring steam;
The luntin’ pipe and sneeshin’-mill
Are handed round wi’ right gude-will;
The canty auld folk crackin’ crouse,
The young anee ranting through the house-
My heart has been sae fain to see them
That I for joy hae barkit wi’ them.
  Still it ‘a owre true that ye hae said,
Sic game is now owre aften play’d.
There ‘s mony a creditable stock
O’ decent, honest, fawsont folk,
Are riven out baith root and branch
Some rascal’s pridefu’ greed to quench,
Wha thinks to knit himse1 the faster
In favour wi’ some gentle master,
Wha, aiblins, thrang a-parliamentin’,
For Britain’s gude his saul indentin-

      CAESAR.

Haith, lad, ye little ken about it;
For Britain’s gude!-guid faith! I doubt it!
Say rather, gaun as Premiers lead him,
And saying ay or no ‘s they bid him!
At operas and plays parading,
Mortgaging, gambling, masquerading.
Or maybe, in a frolic daft,
To Hague or Calais taks a waft,
To make a tour, an’ tak a whirl,
To learn _bon ton_ an’ see the worl’.
  There, at Vienna, or Versailles,
He rives his father’s auld entails;
Or by Madrid he takes the rout,
To thrum guitars and fecht wi’ nowt;
Or down Italian vista startles,
Whore-hunting amang groves o’ myrtles;
Then houses drumly German water,
To make himsel’ look fair and fatter,
And clear the consequential sorrow,
Love-gifts of Carnival signoras.
For Britain’s gude!-for her destruction!
Wi’ dissipation, feud, and faction!

      LUATH.

  Hech man! dear sirs! is that the gate
They waste sae mony a braw estate?
Are we sae foughten and harass’d
For gear to gang that gate at last?
  O would they stay aback frae courts,
An’ please themselves wi’ country sports,
It wad for every ane be better,
The laird, the tenant, an’ the cotter!
For thae frank, rantin’, ramblin’ billies,
Fient haet o’ them ‘s ill-hearted fellows:
Except for breakin’ o’ their timmer,
Or speaking lightly o’ their limmer,
Or shootin’ o’ a hare or moor-cock,
The ne’er-a-bit they’re ill to poor folk.
  But will ye tell me, Master Caesar?
Sure great folk’s life ‘s a life o’ pleasure;
Nae cauld nor hunger e’er can steer them,
The very thought o’t needna fear them.

      CAESAR.

Lord, man, wore ye but whyles where I am,
The gentles ye wad ne’er envy ‘em,
  It’s true, they needna starve or sweat,
Thro’ winter’s cauld or simmer’s heat;
They’ve nae sair wark to craze their banes,
An’ fill auld age wi’ grips an’ granes:
But human bodies are sic fools,
For a’ their colleges and schools,
That when nae real ills perplex them,
They make enow themselves to vex them,
An’ aye the less they hae to sturt them,
In like proportion less will hurt them.
A country fellow at the pleugh,
His acres till’d, he ‘s right eneugh;
A country laasie at her wheel,
Her dizzens done, she ‘s unco weel;
But gentlemen, an’ ladies warst,
Wi’ ev’ndown want o’ wark are curst.
They loiter, lounging, lank, and lazy;
Though de’il haet ails them, yet uneasy;
Their days insipid, dull and tasteless;
Their nights unquiet, lang, and restless.
And e’en their sports, their balls, and races,
Their galloping through public places;
There ‘s sic parade, sic pomp and art.,
The joy can scarcely reach the heart.
The men cast out in party matches,
Then sowther a’ in deep debauches:
Ae night they’re mad wi’ drink and whoring,
Neist day their life is past enduring.
The ladies arm-in-arm, in clusters,
As great and gracious a’ as sisters;
But hear their absent thoughts o’ ither,
They’re a’ run de’ils and jades thegither.
Whyles, owre the wee bit cup and platie,
They sip the scandal-potion pretty;
Or lee-lang nights, wi’ crabbit leuks,
Pore owre the devil’s picture beuks;
Stake on a chance a farmer’s stack-yard,
And cheat like ony unhang’d blackguard.
  There’s some exception, man and woman;
But this is gentry’s life in common.

  By this the sun was out o’ sight,
And darker gloamin brought the night;
The bum-clock humm’d wi’ lazy drone,
The kye stood rowtin’ i’ the loan;
When up they gat and shook their lugs,
Rejoiced they werena men but dogs;
And each took aff his several way,
Resolved to meet some ither day.

1786

                      Robert Burns


Robert Burns's other poems:
  1. Scroggam
  2. Lines Written on a Bank-note
  3. Lines Written at Loudon Manse
  4. To Alex Cunningham, Writer
  5. How Lang And Dreary


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