An Extemporaneous Effusion on being appointed to the Excise

Searching auld wives' barrels, Ochon, the day! That clarty barm should stain my laurels; But-what'll ye say? These muvin' things ca'd wives and weans, Wad muve the very hearts o' stanes!


Paul Young

About this work

This is a poem by Robert Burns. It was written in 1788 and is read here by Paul Young.

More about this poem

Although Burns was commissioned as an Excise man on 14 July 1788, this poem may date slightly before this, as he had to go through a six week training period before taking up his post permanently.

Burns had first considered the Excise as a career in 1786 after he had abandoned plans to emigrate.

In January 1788 he sought the help of Robert Graham of Fintry, who was a Commissioner of Excise, and a man whom he had met on his Highland tour. Burns noted that the post brought, ‘immediate bread, and though poor in comparison of the last eighteen-months... ’tis luxury in comparison of all my preceding life’.

Ralph McLean

Themes for this poem


Selected for 15 July

Burns was commissioned as an Exciseman on July 14th, 1788, a year too early to celebrate Bastille Day! So we mark that more personal anniversary today instead. For the impoverished and anxious poet, this long lobbied for post meant added security and stability in his new life as a farmer and family man in Dumfries. 'Wives and weans' had certainly been much on the novice customs officer's mind.

Donny O'Rourke

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