Epistle To Davie, A Brother Poet


While winds frae aff Ben-Lomond blaw, An' bar the doors wi' driving snaw, An' hing us owre the ingle, I set me down to pass the time, An' spin a verse or twa o' rhyme, In hamely, westlin jingle. While frosty winds blaw in the drift, Ben to the chimla lug, I grudge a wee the great-folk's gift, That live sae bien an' snug: I tent less, and want less Their roomy fire-side; But hanker, and canker, To see their cursed pride. It's hardly in a body's pow'r To keep, at times, frae being sour, To see how things are shar'd; How best o' chiels are whiles in want, While coofs on countless thousands rant, And ken na how to wair't; But, Davie, lad, ne'er fash your head, Tho' we hae little gear; We're fit to win our daily bread, As lang's we're hale and fier: " Mair spier na, nor fear na,"1 Auld age ne'er mind a feg; The last o't, the warst o't Is only but to beg. To lie in kilns and barns at e'en, When banes are craz'd, and bluid is thin, Is doubtless, great distress! Yet then content could make us blest; Ev'n then, sometimes, we'd snatch a taste Of truest happiness. The honest heart that's free frae a' Intended fraud or guile, However Fortune kick the ba', Has aye some cause to smile; An' mind still, you'll find still, A comfort this nae sma'; Nae mair then we'll care then, Nae farther can we fa'. What tho', like commoners of air, We wander out, we know not where, But either house or hal', Yet nature's charms, the hills and woods, The sweeping vales, and foaming floods, Are free alike to all. In days when daisies deck the ground, And blackbirds whistle clear, With honest joy our hearts will bound, To see the coming year: On braes when we please, then, We'll sit an' sowth a tune; Syne rhyme till't we'll time till't, An' sing't when we hae done. It's no in titles nor in rank; It's no in wealth like Lon'on bank, To purchase peace and rest: It's no in makin' muckle, mair; It's no in books, it's no in lear, To make us truly blest: If happiness hae not her seat An' centre in the breast, We may be wise, or rich, or great, But never can be blest; Nae treasures, nor pleasures Could make us happy lang; The heart aye's the part aye That makes us right or wrang. Think ye, that sic as you and I, Wha drudge an' drive thro' wet and dry, Wi' never-ceasing toil; Think ye, are we less blest than they, Wha scarcely tent us in their way, As hardly worth their while? Alas! how aft in haughty mood, God's creatures they oppress! Or else, neglecting a' that's guid, They riot in excess! Baith careless and fearless Of either heaven or hell; Esteeming and deeming It's a' an idle tale! Then let us cheerfu' acquiesce, Nor make our scanty pleasures less, By pining at our state: And, even should misfortunes come, I, here wha sit, hae met wi' some -- An's thankfu' for them yet. They gie the wit of age to youth; They let us ken oursel'; They make us see the naked truth, The real guid and ill: Tho' losses an' crosses Be lessons right severe, There's wit there, ye'll get there, Ye'll find nae other where. But tent me, Davie, ace o' hearts! (To say aught less wad wrang the cartes, And flatt'ry I detest) This life has joys for you and I; An' joys that riches ne'er could buy, An' joys the very best. There's a' the pleasures o' the heart, The lover an' the frien'; Ye hae your Meg, your dearest part, And I my darling Jean! It warms me, it charms me, To mention but her name: It heats me, it beets me, An' sets me a' on flame! O all ye Pow'rs who rule above! O Thou whose very self art love! Thou know'st my words sincere! The life-blood streaming thro' my heart, Or my more dear immortal part, Is not more fondly dear! When heart-corroding care and grief Deprive my soul of rest, Her dear idea brings relief, And solace to my breast. Thou Being, All-seeing, O hear my fervent pray'r; Still take her, and make her Thy most peculiar care! All hail! ye tender feelings dear! The smile of love, the friendly tear, The sympathetic glow! Long since, this world's thorny ways Had number'd out my weary days, Had it not been for you! Fate still has blest me with a friend, In ev'ry care and ill; And oft a more endearing band -- A tie more tender still. It lightens, it brightens The tenebrific scene, To meet with, and greet with My Davie, or my Jean! O, how that name inspires my style! The words come skelpin, rank an' file, Amaist before I ken! The ready measure rins as fine, As Phoebus an' the famous Nine Were glowrin owre my pen. My spaviet Pegasus will limp, Till ance he's fairly het; And then he'll hilch, and stilt, an' jimp, And rin an unco fit: But least then the beast then Should rue this hasty ride, I'll light now, and dight now His sweaty, wizen'd hide.

Listen

Ian McDiarmid
Robbie Shepherd

About this work

This is an epistle by Robert Burns. It was written in 1785 and is read here by Ian McDiarmid.

More about this epistle

David Sillar (1760-1830) was the son of Patrick Sillar, a tenant farmer in Spittleside, Tarbolton.

He was a teacher at the parish school, before John Wilson was appointed, and in 1783 set himself up as a grocer in Irvine. He even had his own poems published in Kilmarnock in 1789, but became bankrupt and returned to teaching to make his money.

He still managed to die well off, as he inherited Spittleside as well as a legacy.

Sillar composed the air of Burns’s song, The Rosebud, and was a member of the Tarbolton Bachelors’ Club. He was introduced to Burns by the poet’s brother Gilbert, and the two regularly met on Sundays after Church to go for walks.

Burns noted that Sillar was particularly adept at conversing with ladies, and if they met one during their walks, it generally put an end to their own conversation.

Burns also observed that the style of this Epistle follows that of The Cherry and the Slae, written by the Scots poet Alexander Montgomerie (1597), and which appeared in James Watson’s Collection (1706), and Allan Ramsay’s Evergreen (1724).

Ralph McLean

Themes for this epistle

poetry

Selected for 27 January

Another letter in verse, this one from January. The, 'famous nine' are the Muses. 'Commoners of air' puns on the name of the town, Ayr. Burns sets out his hopes for the, 'coming year' and the italics may suggest a longed for improvement in his fortunes and those of his friend, and their respective sweethearts, to contrast with the travails of the year just past. Davie Sillar, a much less gifted poet than his fellow Tarbolton Bachelor but a far better fiddler, composed the ravishing air, The Rosebud', for which Burns provided some sweetly suitable words in praise of Jean Armour. Although the poet did (eventually) marry his Jean, 'Meg' (Orr) forsook the literally unfortunate teacher and grocer for a safer financial prospect, John Paton, a shoe-maker. Sillar, who became a town councillor, went on to help found the Irvine Burns Club, left us a vividly seductive pen portrait of the charismatic young poet at his most dandyish and dashing.

Donny O'Rourke

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