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A Dream


Guid-Mornin' to your Majesty! May Heaven augment your blisses On ev'ry new birth-day ye see, A humble poet wishes. My bardship here, at your Levee On sic a day as this is, Is sure an uncouth sight to see, Amang thae birth-day dresses Sae fine this day. I see ye're complimented thrang, By mony a lord an' lady; "God save the King" 's a cuckoo sang That's unco easy said aye: The poets, too, a venal gang, Wi' rhymes weel-turn'd an' ready, Wad gar you trow ye ne'er do wrang, But aye unerring steady, On sic a day. For me! before a monarch's face Ev'n there I winna flatter; For neither pension, post, nor place, Am I your humble debtor: So, nae reflection on your Grace, Your Kingship to bespatter; There's mony waur been o' the race, And aiblins ane been better Than you this day. 'Tis very true, my sovereign King, My skill may weel be doubted; But facts are chiels that winna ding, An' downa be disputed: Your royal nest, beneath your wing, Is e'en right reft and clouted, And now the third part o' the string, An' less, will gang aboot it Than did ae day. Far be't frae me that I aspire To blame your legislation, Or say, ye wisdom want, or fire, To rule this mighty nation: But faith! I muckle doubt, my sire, Ye've trusted ministration To chaps wha in barn or byre Wad better fill'd their station Than courts yon day. And now ye've gien auld Britain peace, Her broken shins to plaister, Your sair taxation does her fleece, Till she has scarce a tester: For me, thank God, my life's a lease, Nae bargain wearin' faster, Or, faith! I fear, that, wi' the geese, I shortly boost to pasture I' the craft some day. I'm no mistrusting Willie Pitt, When taxes he enlarges, (An' Will's a true guid fallow's get, A name not envy spairges), That he intends to pay your debt, An' lessen a' your charges; But, God-sake! let nae saving fit Abridge your bonie barges An'boats this day. Adieu, my Liege; may freedom geck Beneath your high protection; An' may ye rax Corruption's neck, And gie her for dissection! But since I'm here, I'll no neglect, In loyal, true affection, To pay your Queen, wi' due respect, May fealty an' subjection This great birth-day. Hail, Majesty most Excellent! While nobles strive to please ye, Will ye accept a compliment, A simple poet gies ye? Thae bonie bairntime, Heav'n has lent, Still higher may they heeze ye In bliss, till fate some day is sent For ever to release ye Frae care that day. For you, young Potentate o'Wales, I tell your highness fairly, Down Pleasure's stream, wi' swelling sails, I'm tauld ye're driving rarely; But some day ye may gnaw your nails, An' curse your folly sairly, That e'er ye brak Diana's pales, Or rattl'd dice wi' Charlie By night or day. Yet aft a ragged cowt's been known, To mak a noble aiver; So, ye may doucely fill the throne, For a'their clish-ma-claver: There, him at Agincourt wha shone, Few better were or braver: And yet, wi' funny, queer Sir John, He was an unco shaver For mony a day. For you, right rev'rend Osnaburg, Nane sets the lawn-sleeve sweeter, Altho' a ribbon at your lug Wad been a dress completer: As ye disown yon paughty dog, That bears the keys of Peter, Then swith! an' get a wife to hug, Or trowth, ye'll stain the mitre Some luckless day! Young, royal Tarry-breeks, I learn, Ye've lately come athwart her -- A glorious galley, stem and stern, Weel rigg'd for Venus' barter; But first hang out, that she'll discern, Your hymeneal charter; Then heave aboard your grapple airn, An' large upon her quarter, Come full that day. Ye, lastly, bonie blossoms a', Ye royal lasses dainty, Heav'n mak you guid as well as braw, An' gie you lads a-plenty! But sneer na British boys awa! For kings are unco scant aye, An' German gentles are but sma', They're better just than want aye On ony day. Gad bless you a'! consider now, Ye're unco muckle dautit; But ere the course o' life be through, It may be bitter sautit: An' I hae seen their coggie fou, That yet hae tarrow't at it. But or the day was done, I trow, The laggen they hae clautit Fu' clean that day.

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Siobhan Redmond

About this work

This is a poem by Robert Burns. It was written in 1786 and is read here by Siobhan Redmond.

More about this poem

On the anniversary of the King's birthday, poets often dedicated a birthday ode to his Majesty and so on the forty-eighth birthday of George III, celebrated on 4 June 1786, the poet laureate Thomas Warton dedicated a Pindaric Ode to the King. Burns inserted his own, rather less sincere, effort into the Kilmarnock edition just before its publication in the same year.

Mrs Dunlop pointed out to him that London audiences did not especially like this address to the King and was concerned that it would damage the reception of his other poems. Burns replied, 'I set as little by kings, lords, clergy, critics etc. as all these respectable Gentry do by my Bardship ... For my DREAM which has unfortunately incurred your loyal displeasure, I hope ... to have the honor of appearing, at Dunlop, in it's defence in person.'

The poet claims that in a dream he was transported to the birthday celebrations and writes what he dreamt he had spoken to the king, disdaining to flatter even 'before a Monarch's face.' He does not hang back from pointing out that since the American Colonies have gained their independence, the power of the King has waned.

He then attacks the King's legislation and taxation, enacted through the Tory Prime Minister, William Pitt, a staunch supporter of the king, the Foxite opposition being more disposed to parliamentary reform. It does not matter that peace has come, as taxation still cripples the nation.

Burns then turns to Queen Charlotte and the Royal Family, saying almost the complete opposite of the flattering descriptions of Thomas Warton. Here the King's second son the Duke of York who, Burns suggests, indulges in many love-affairs whilst a captain in the Navy, is satirised by many sexually-suggestive nautical images of the prince who has 'lately come athwart her ...large upon her quarter'.

After appealing to the young princesses to be good, he ends with a somewhat ominous blessing on the whole Royal Family. Although they are fussed over now, they may soon endure the bitterness of bad luck in the future, just as those who pick over their food will soon scrape every inch off the plate when assaulted by real hunger. The reader is left with the uneasy question in their mind as to whether or not this poem in the Christis Kirk stanza might ultimately contain a veiled threat of the return of the Jacobite Stuarts or of the institution of a Republic?

Jennifer Orr

Themes for this poem

humour class royalty

Selected for 05 June

Upon its publication in the Kilmarnock Edition of his poems 'A Dream' caused exactly the uproar Burns had hoped for, giving tremendous offence to the Hanoverians, whom the poet loathed and despised. The penning of such a polemic was certainly not a good career move. But then nearly treasonous candour was something of a compositional trademark for this sometimes recklessly radical poetic provocateur.

Donny O'Rourke

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