Epistle to Hugh Parker


In this strange land, this uncouth clime, A land unknown to prose or rhyme; Where words ne'er crost the muse's heckles, Nor limpet in poetic shackles; A land that prose did never view it, Except when drunk he stacher't thro' it; Here, ambush'd by the chimla cheek, Hid in an atmosphere of reek, I hear a wheel thrum i' the neuk, I hear it - for in vain I leuk. The red peat gleams, a fiery kernel, Enhusked by a fog infernal: Here, for my wonted rhyming raptures, I sit and count my sins by chapters; For life and spunk like ither Christians, I'm dwindled down to mere existence, Wi' nae converse but Gallowa' bodies, Wi' nae kenn'd face but Jenny Geddes. Jenny, my Pegasean pride! Dowie she saunters down Nithside, And aye a westlin leuk she throws, While tears hap o'er her auld brown nose! Was it for this, wi' canny care, Thou bure the Bard through many a shire? At howes or hillocks never stumbled, And late or early never grumbled? O, had I power like inclination, I'd heeze thee up a constellation, To canter with the Sagitarre, Or loup the ecliptic like a bar; Or turn the pole like any arrow; Or, when auld Phebus bids good-morrow, Down the zodiac urge the race, And cast dirt on his godship's face; For I could lay my bread and kail He'd ne'er cast saut upo' thy tail. Wi' a' this care and a' this grief, And sma', sma' prospect of relief, And nought but peat reek i' my head, How can I write what ye can read? Tarbolton, twenty-fourth o' June, Ye'll find me in a better tune; But till we meet and weet our whistle, Tak this excuse for nae epistle.

Listen

Billy Boyd

About this work

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

More about this poem

Hugh Parker, was the brother of the Kilmarnock banker, Major William Parker. Burns wrote to his friend from Ellisland, complaining about the smoke from a hut near the tower of Isle where he was currently staying while the farmhouse at Ellisland was undergoing construction.

In a letter to Mrs Dunlop from June 1788, Burns lamented that he was alone at Ellisland, without the network of friendships that he had enjoyed in Ayrshire.

One companion that he did have, and who is referred to in this poem was Jenny Geddes, his horse.

The name that he used for his mare was taken from a woman who in 1637 had thrown her (foot) stool at the Bishop of Edinburgh while he was trying to introduce The Book of Common Prayer.

Ralph McLean

Themes for this poem

supernatural poetry

Selected for 22 June

Today's poem, a letter to an early friend, the banker Hugh Parker, sees Burns promising to be at his amiable best in Tarbolton on the 24th of June.

Donny O'Rourke

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