A Bard's Epitaph

Is there a whim-inspired fool, Owre fast for thought, owre hot for rule, Owre blate to seek, owre proud to snool , Let him draw near; And owre this grassy heap sing dool , And drap a tear. Is there a bard of rustic song, Who, noteless, steals the crowds among, That weekly this area throng, O, pass not by ! But , with a frater-feeling strong, Here, heave a sigh. Is there a man, whose judgment clear Can others teach the course to steer , Yet runs, himself, life's mad career, Wild as the wave, Here pause -- and, thro' the starting tear, Survey this grave. The poor inhabitant below Was quick to learn the wise to know, And keenly felt the friendly glow, And softer flame; But thoughtless follies laid him low , And stain'd his name! Reader, attend! whether thy soul Soars fancy's flights beyond the pole, Or darkling grubs this earthly hole, In low pursuit: Know, prudent, cautious, self-control Is wisdom's root.


John Gordon Sinclair

About this work

This is a poem by Robert Burns. It was written in 1786 and is read here by John Gordon Sinclair.

More about this poem

This solemn meditation on the destruction of a poet through 'life's mad career' is the final poem of the Kilmarnock Edition of 1786.

In its message of self-control and prudence as the root of wisdom, it is atypical for Burns, and is arguably inspired by the poet's own self-made image as 'a Bard of rustic song' whose 'thoughtless follies... stained his name!'

After the first stanza in the vernacular, the poem warns us in English of the dangers of reckless and impulsive living, ultimately revealing that if reputation is to be saved and wisdom attained, life ought to be lived prudently.

Juliet Linden Bicket

Themes for this poem

death regret poetry

Locations for this poem


Selected for 31 July

It was on the last day of July in 1786 that perhaps the most important book ever published in Scotland made its debut in print. The Kilmarnock Edition of Burns's poems was to transform its author's life. No more thoughts of emigration. After the success confirmed and consolidated by these 'poems chiefly in the Scottish dialect', the local scribbler would become the national bard and international literary celebrity. All of that from a print run of just 612 copies, sold out within the month. This was the last poem in Robert Burns's first book and given what was to be the brief span of his life there is a poignant irony in his penning an epitaph for himself.

Donny O'Rourke

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