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Poem by Robert Burns


The Brigs of Ayr


THE simple Bard, rough at the rustic plough,
Learning his tuneful trade from every bough;
The chanting linnet, or the mellow thrush,
Hailing the setting sun, sweet, in the green thorn bush;
The soaring lark, the perching red-breast shrill,
Or deep-ton’d plovers gray, wild-whistling o’er the hill;
Shall he, nurst in the peasant’s lowly shed,
To hardy independence bravely bred,
By early poverty to hardship steel’d,
And train’d to arms in stern Misfortune’s field,-
Shall he be guilty of their hireling crimes,
The servile, mercenary Swiss of rhymes?
Or labour hard the panegyric doss,
With all the venal soul of dedicating prose?
No! though his artless strains he rudely sings,
And throws his hand uncouthly o’er the strings,
He glows with all the spirit of the Bard,
Fame, honest fame, his great, his dear reward.
Still, if some patron’s generous care he trace,
Skill’d in the secret to bestow with grace;
When Ballantyne befriends his humble name
And hands the rustic stranger up to fame,
With heartfelt throes his grateful bosom swells,
The godlike bliss, to give, alone excels.


  ‘Twas when the stacks get on their winter-hap,
And thack and rape secure the toil-won crap;
Potatoe-bings are snugged up frae skaith
O’ coming Winter’s biting, frosty breath;
The bees, rejoicing o’er their summer toils,
Unnumber’d buds an’ flowers’ delicious spoils,
Seal’d up with frugal care in massive waxen piles,
Are doom’d by Man, that tyrant o’er the weak,
The death o’ devils, smoor’d wi’ brimstone reek:
The thund’ring guns are heard on ev’ry side,
The wounded coveys, reeling, scatter wide;
The feather’d field-mates, bound by Nature’s tie,
Sires, mothers, children, in one carnage lie:
(What warm, poetic heart, but inly bleeds,
And execrates man’s savage, ruthless deeds!)
Nae mair the flow’r in field or meadow springs;
Nae mair the grove with airy concert rings,
Except perhaps the Robin’s whistling glee,
Proud o’ the height o’ some bit half-lang tree:
The hoary morns precede the sunny days,
Mild, calm, serene, wide spreads the noontide blaze,
While thick the gossamour waves wanton in the rays.

‘Twas in that season when a simple Bard,
Unknown and poor, simplicity’s reward,
Ae night, within the ancient brugh of Ayr,
By whim inspir’d, or haply prest wi’ care,
He left his bed and took his wayward route,
And down by Simpson’s wheel’d the left about:
(Whether impell’d by all-directing Fate,
To witness what I after shall narrate;
Or whether, rapt in meditation high,
He wander’d out he knew not where nor why:)
The drowsy Dungeon clock had number’d two,
And Wallace Tower had sworn the fact was true:
The tide-swoln Firth, wi’ sullen-sounding roar,
Through the still night daah’d hoarse along the shore:
All else was hush’d as Nature’s closed e’e;
The silent moon shone high o’er tow’r and tree:
The chilly frost, beneath the silver beam,
Crept, gently-crusting, owre the glittering stream-
  When, lo! on either hand the list’ning Bard,
The clanging sough of whistling wings is heard;
Two dusky forms dart thro’ the midnight air,
Swift as the gos drives on the wheeling hare;
Ane on th’ Auld Brig his airy shape uprears,
The ither flutters o’er the rising piers:
Our warlock Rhymer instantly descried
The Sprites that owre the Brigs of Ayr preside.
(That Bards are second-sighted is nae joke,
And ken the lingo of the sp’ritual folk;
Fays, Spunkies, Kelpies, a’, they can explain them,
And ev’n the very deils they brawly ken them.)
Auld Brig appear’d o’ ancient Pictish race,
The very wrinkles Gothic in his face;
He seem’d as he wi Time had warstl’d lang,
Yet, toughly doure, he bade an unco bang.
New Brig was buskit, in a braw new coat,
That he, at Lon’on, frae ane Adams got;
In ‘s hand five taper staves as smooth’s a bead,
Wi’ virls an’ whirlygigums at the head.
The Goth was stalking round with anxious search,
Spying the time-worn flaws in ev’ry arch;
It chanc’d his new-come neebor took his e’e,
And e’en a vex’d and angry heart had he!
Wi’ thieveless sneer to see his modish mien,
He, down the water, gies him this guid-een:-

        AULD BRIG.

  I doubtna, frien’, ye’ll think ye’re nae sheep-shank.
Ance ye were streekit owre free bank to bank!
But gin ye be a brig as auld as me-
Tho’, faith! that date, I doubt, ye’ll never see-
There’ll be, if that day come, I’ll wad a boddle,
Some fewer whigmaleeries in your noddle.

        NEW BRIG.

  Auld Vandal! ye but show your little mense,
Just much about it wi’ your scanty sense;
Will your poor narrow foot-path of a street,
Where twa wheel-barrows tremble when they meet,
Your ruin’d formless bulk o’ stane and lime,
Compare wi’ bonnie brigs o’ modern time?
There’s men of taste wou’d tak the Ducat stream,
Tho’ they should cast the very sark and swim,
Ere they would grate their feelings wi’ the view
O’ sic an ugly Gothic hulk as you.

        AULD BRIG.

  Conceited gowk! puff’d up wi’ windy pride!
This mony a year I’ve stood the flood an’ tide;
And tho’ wi’ crazy eild I’m sair forfairn,
I’ll be a brig, when ye’re a shapeless cairn!
As yet ye little ken about the matter,
But twa-three winters will inform ye better.
When heavy, dark, continued, a’-day rains,
Wi’ deepening deluges o’erflow the plains;
When from the hills where springs the brawling Coil,
Or stately Lugar’s mossy fountains boil,
Or where the Greenock winds his moorland course,
Or haunted Garpal draws his feeble source,
Arous’d by blust’ring winds an’ spotting thowes,
In mony a torrent down the snaw-broo rowes;
While crashing ice, borne on the roaring spate,
Sweeps dams, an’ mills, an’ brigs, a’ to the gate;
And from Glenbuck, down to the Ratten-key,
Auld Ayr is just one lengthen’d, tumbling sea;
Then down ye’ll hurl, deil nor ye never rise!
And dash the gumlie jaups up to the pouring skies!
A lesson sadly teaching, to your cost,
That architecture’s noble art is lost!

        NEW BRIG.

  Fine architecture, trowth, I needs must say’t o’t,
The Lord be thankit that we’ve tint the gate o’t!
Gaunt, ghastly, ghaist-alluring edifices,
Hanging with threat’ning jut, like precipices;
O’er-arching, mouldy, gloom-inspiring coves,
Supporting roofs, fantastic, stony groves;
Windows and doors in nameless sculptures drest,
With order, symmetry, or taste unblest;
Forms like some bedlam Statuary’s dream,
The craz’d creations of misguided whim;
Forms might be worshipp’d on the bonded knee,
And still the second dread command be free,
Their likeness is not found on earth, in air, or sea!
Mansions that would disgrace the building taste
Of any mason reptile, bird, or beast;
Fit only for a doited monkish race,
Or frosty maids forsworn the dear embrace,
Or cuifs of later times wha held the notion
That sullen gloom was sterling, true devotion;
Fancies that our guid Brugh denies protection,
And soon may they expire, unblest with resurrection!

        AULD BRIG.

  O ye, my dear-remember’d, ancient yealings,
Were ye but here to share my wounded feelings!
Ye worthy Proveses, an’ mony a Bailie,
Wha in the paths o’ righteousness did toil aye;
Ye dainty Deacons, an’ ye douce Conveeners,
To whom our moderns are but causey-cleaners!
Ye godly Councils wha hae blest this town;
Ye godly Brethren o’ the sacred gown,
Wha meekly gie your hurdies to the smiters;
And (what would now be strange ye godly Writers:
A’ ye douce folk I’ve borne aboon the broo,
Were ye but here, what would ye say or do!
How would your spirits groan in deep vexation,
To see each melancholy alteration;
And agonizing, curse the time and place
When ye begat the base degen’rate race!
Nae langer rev’rend men, their country’s glory,
In plain braid Scots hold forth a plain braid story;
Nae langer thrifty citizens, an’ douce,
Meet owre a pint, or in the Council-house;
But staumrel, corky-headed, graceless Gentry,
The herryment and ruin of the country;
Men, three-parts made by tailors and by barbers,
Wha waste your weel-hain’d gear on damn’d new brigs and harbours!

        NEW BRIG.

  Now haud you there! for faith ye’ve said enough,
And muckle mair than ye can mak to through:
As for your Priesthood, I shall say but little,
Corbies and Clergy are a shot right kittle;
But, under favour o’ your langer beard,
Abuse o’ Magistrates might weel be spar’d;
To liken them to your auld-warld squad,
I must needs say, comparisons are odd.
In Ayr, wag-wits nae mair can have a handle
To mouth ‘a Citizen,’ a term o’ scandal;
Nae mair the Council waddles down the street,
In all the pomp of ignorant conceit;
Men wha grew wise priggin’ owre hops an’ raisins,
Or gather’d liberal views in bonds and seisins.
If haply Knowledge, on a random tramp,
Had shor’d them wi’ a glimmer of his lamp,
And would to Common-sense for once betray’d them,
Plain dull Stupidity stept kindly in to aid them.

  WHAT farther clishmaclaver might been said,
What bloody wars, if Sprites had blood to shed,
No man can tell; but all before their sight
A fairy train appear’d in order bright;
Adown the glittering stream they featly danc’d;
Bright to the moon their various dresses glanc’d:
They footed o’er the watery glass so neat,
The infant ice scarce bent beneath their feet;
While arts of Minstrelsy among them rung,
And soul-ennobling Bards heroic ditties sung.
o had M’Lauchlan, thairm-inspiring sage,
Been there to hear this heavenly band engage,
When thro’ his dear strathspeys they bore with Highland rage,
Or when they struok old Scotia’s melting airs,
The lover’s raptur’d joys or bleeding cares,
How would his Highland lug been nobler fired,
And ev’n his matchless hand with finer touch inspired!
No guess could tell what instrument appear’d,
But all the soul of Music’s self was heard;
Harmonious concert rung in every part,
While simple melody pour’d moving on the heart.
  The Genius of the Stream in front appears,
A venerable Chief, advanced in years;
His hoary head with water-liliee crown’d,
His manly leg with garter-tangle bound.
Next came the loveliest pair in all the ring,
Sweet Female Beauty hand in hand with Spring;
Then, crown’d with flow’ry bay, came Rural Joy,
And Summer, with his fervid-beaming eye;
All-cheering Plenty, with her flowing horn,
Led yellow Autumn wreath’d with nodding corn;
Then Winter’s time-bleach’d locks did hoary show,
By Hospitality with cloudless brow;
Next follow’d Courage with his martial stride,
From where the Feal wild-woody coverts hide;
Benevolence, with mild benignant air,
A female form, came from the towers of Stair:
Learning and Worth in equal measures trode
From simple Catrine, their long-loved abode;
Last, white-robed Peace, crown’d with a hazel wreath,
To rustic Agriculture did bequeath
The broken iron instruments of death:
At sight of whom our Sprites forgat their kindling wrath.



Robert Burns

Poem Themes: Ayr, Rivers

Robert Burns's other poems:
  1. The Banks of Nith (THE THAMES flows proudly to the sea)
  2. The Flowery Banks of Cree
  3. Farewell to Ballochmyle
  4. Gala Water
  5. The Rantin’ Dog the Daddie O’t


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