Birthday Ode For 31st December, 1787


Afar the illustrious Exile roams, Whom kingdoms on this day should hail; An inmate in the casual shed, On transient pity's bounty fed, Haunted by busy memory's bitter tale! Beasts of the forest have their savage homes, But He, who should imperial purple wear, Owns not the lap of earth where rests his royal head! His wretched refuge, dark despair, While ravening wrongs and woes pursue, And distant far the faithful few Who would his sorrows share. False flatterer, Hope, away! Nor think to lure us as in days of yore: We solemnize this sorrowing natal day, To prove our loyal truth -- we can no more, And owning Heaven's mysterious sway, Submissive, low adore. Ye honored, mighty Dead , Who nobly perished in the glorious cause, Your King, your Country, and her laws, From great Dundee, who smiling Victory led, And fell a Martyr in her arms, (What breast of northern ice but warms!) To bold Balmerino's undying name, Whose soul of fire, lighted at Heaven's high flame, Deserves the proudest wreath departed heroes claim: Nor unrevenged your fate shall lie, It only lags , the fatal hour, Your blood shall, with incessant cry, Awake at last, th' unsparing Power; As from the cliff, with thundering course, The snowy ruin smokes along With doubling speed and gathering force, Till deep it, crushing, whelms the cottage in the vale; So Vengeance' arm, ensanguin'd, strong, Shall with resistless might assail, Usurping Brunswick's pride shall lay, And Stewart's wrongs and yours, with tenfold weight repay. Perdition, baleful child of night! Rise and revenge the injured right Of Stewart's royal race: Lead on the unmuzzled hounds of hell, Till all the frighted echoes tell The blood-notes of the chase! Full on the quarry point their view, Full on the base usurping crew, The tools of faction, and the nation's curse! Hark how the cry grows on the wind; They leave the lagging gale behind, Their savage fury, pitiless, they pour; With murdering eyes already they devour; See Brunswick spent, a wretched prey, His life one poor despairing day, Where each avenging hour still ushers in a worse! Such havock, howling all abroad, Their utter ruin bring, The base apostates to their God, Or rebels to their King.

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Gerda Stevenson

About this work

This is a poem by Robert Burns. It was written in 1787 and is read here by Gerda Stevenson.

More about this poem

The Birthday Ode was written by Burns while in Edinburgh. He had attended a dinner in the city in order to celebrate the Birthday of Charles Edward Stuart, ‘the king across the water’.

Burns’s attachment to Jacobitism was purely sentimental, and he had no desire to see the restoration of the Stuart monarchy.

Rather, according to his first biographer James Currie, he ‘indulged the generous feelings which the recollection of fallen greatness is calculated to inspire’.

Currie only published lines 13-36, as he believed that the poem was somewhat of a rant.

‘Great Dundee’ referes to John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee, (1649-1689) who died at the battle of Killicrankie fighting for the Stuart cause, while ‘bold Balmerino’ is Arthur Elphinstone, Lord Balmerino, (1688-1746), another Jacobite hero, who fought in both the ’15 and the ’45 rebellions, but was executed in the aftermath of Culloden.

Ralph McLean

Themes for this poem

jacobitism royalty regret

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