Janet Little

Given to a Lady who Asked Me to Write a Poem

‘In royal Anna’s golden days,
Hard was the task to gain the bays;
Hard was it then the hill to climb;
Some broke a neck, some lost a limb.
The votaries for poetic fame
Got aff decrepit, blind an’ lame;
Except that little fellow Pope,
Few ever then got near its top;
An’ Homer’s crutches he may thank,
Or down the brae he’d got a clank. 

‘Swift, Thomson, Addison an’ Young
Made Pindus echo to their tongue,
In hopes to please a learned age;
But Doctor Johnson, in a rage,
Unto posterity did show
Their blunders great, their beauties few.
But now he’s dead, we weel may ken;
For ilka dunce maun hae a pen,
To write in hamely, uncouth rhymes;
An’ yet forsooth they please the times. 

‘A ploughtman chiel, Rab Burns his name,
Pretends to write; an’ thinks nae shame
To souse his sonnets on the court;
An’ what is stange, they praise him for’t.
Even folks, wha’re of the highest station,
Ca’ him the glory of our nation. 

‘But what is more surprising still,
A milkmaid must tak up her quill;
An’ she will write, shame fa’ the rabble!
That think to please wi’ ilka bawble. 
They may thank heaven auld Sam’s asleep;
For could he ance but get a peep,
He, wi’ a vengeance wad them sen’
A’ headlong to the dunces’ den. 

‘Yet Burns, I’m tauld, can write wi’ ease,
An’ a’ denominations please;
Can wi’ uncommon glee impart
A usefu’ lesson to the heart; 
Can ilka latent thought expose,
An’ Nature trace whare’er she goes;
Of politics can talk wi’ skill,
Nor dare the critics blame his quill. 

‘But then a rustic country quean
To write – was e’er the like o’t seen?
A milkmaid poem-books to print;
Mair fit she wad her dairy tent;
Or labour at her spinning-wheel,
An’ do her wark baith swift an’ weel. 
Frae that she may some profit share,
But winna frae her rhyming ware.
Does she, poor silly thing, pretend
The manners of our age to mend?
Mad as we are, we’re wise enough
Still to despise sic paultry stuff. 

‘May she wha writes, of wit get mair,
An’ a’ that read an ample share
Of candour every fault to screen,
That in her doggerel scrawls are seen.’ 

All this and more, a critic said;
I heard and slunk behind the shade;
So much I dread their cruel spite,
My hand still trembles when I write.


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