Lament for James, Earl of Glencairn

The wind blew hollow frae the hills, By fits the sun's departing beam Look'd on the fading yellow woods That wav'd o'er Lugar's winding stream: Beneath a craigy steep, a Bard, Laden with years and meikle pain, In loud lament bewail'd his lord, Whom Death had all untimely ta'en. He lean'd him to an ancient aik, Whose trunk was mould'ring down with years; His locks were bleached white with time, His hoary cheek was wet wi' tears; And as he touch'd his trembling harp, And as he tun'd his doleful sang, The winds, lamenting thro' their caves, To Echo bore the notes alang. "Ye scatter'd birds that faintly sing, The reliques o' the vernal quire; Ye woods that shed on a' the winds The honours of the aged year: A few short months, and glad and gay, Again ye'll charm the ear and e'e; But nocht in all-revolving time Can gladness bring again to me. "I am a bending aged tree, That long has stood the wind and rain; But now has come a cruel blast, And my last hald of earth is gane; Nae leaf o' mine shall greet the spring, Nae simmer sun exalt my bloom; But I maun lie before the storm, And ithers plant them in my room. "I've seen sae mony changefu' years, On earth I am a stranger grown; I wander in the ways of men, Alike unknowing, and unknown: Unheard, unpitied, unreliev'd, I bear alane my lade o' care, For silent, low, on beds of dust, Lie a' that would my sorrows share. "And last, (the sum of a' my griefs!) My noble master lies in clay; The flow'r amang our barons bold, His country's pride, his country's stay: In weary being now I pine, For a' the life of life is dead, And hope has left my aged ken, On forward wing for ever fled. "Awake thy last sad voice, my harp! The voice of woe and wild despair! Awake, resound thy latest lay, Then sleep in silence evermair! And thou, my last, best, only, friend, That fillest an untimely tomb, Accept this tribute from the Bard Thou brought from Fortune's mirkest gloom. "In Poverty's low barren vale, Thick mists obscure involv'd me round; Though oft I turn'd the wistful eye, Nae ray of fame was to be found: Thou found'st me, like the morning sun That melts the fogs in limpid air, The friendless bard and rustic song, Became alike thy fostering care. "O! why has Worth so short a date? While villains ripen grey with time! Must thou, the noble, gen'rous, great, Fall in bold manhood's hardy prime! Why did I live to see that day? A day to me so full of woe? O! had I met the mortal shaft That laid my benefactor low! "The bridegroom may forget the bride, Was made his wedded wife yestreen; The monarch may forget the crown That on his head an hour has been; The mother may forget the child That smiles sae sweetly on her knee; But I'll remember thee, Glencairn, And a' that thou hast done for me!"


John Cairney

About this work

This is a poem by Robert Burns. It was written in 1791 and is read here by John Cairney.

More about this poem

James Cunningham (1749-1791), the 14th Earl of Glencairn, was Robert Burns's close friend and patron.

Following the success of the Kilmarnock edition, Poems, Chiefly in the Scots Dialect (1786) Burns travelled to Edinburgh to arrange for the forthcoming second edition of his poetry. It was in Edinburgh that he was introduced to Glencairn who soon became a firm friend.

The Earl's influence proved invaluable in acquiring subscriptions. Following James's death, Burns felt the loss of his friend keenly and sent these verses to Glencairn's sister Elizabeth in September 1791.

Fittingly, 'Lament for James, Earl of Glencairn' was then published in Burns's Edinburgh edition of 1793.

Pauline Mackay

Themes for this poem

unhappiness nature death

Selected for 30 January

Burns's fortunes were transformed by the patronage of James Cunningham, the Earl of Glencairn. His early death on January 30, 1791, left the recipient feeling utterly bereft, the more so since the affection between the two men had been mutually intense and respectful, differences in rank notwithstanding. Cunningham was nine years older than Burns and the poet somewhat 'hero worshipped' the handsome and dashing 'blue blood'. It had been Glencairn who had his protege published in Edinburgh, introducing the ploughman to the capital's influential nobility and grand literary figures. The publisher, William Creech, had been Cunningham's tutor. Burns had wanted to acknowledge his protector's 'fostering care', by offering a local newspaper a poem of praise and thanks: thinking this unseemly, Glencairn withheld his permission. His elegy, so movingly disconsolate, may strike us as being a bit too foreluck-tuggingly fawning. But those were the conventions both of this type of tribute and of contemporary social relations. And Burns' love, and loss, were real, heart-breakingly so.

Donny O'Rourke

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