Ode, sacred to the memory of Mrs Oswald of Auchencruive


Dweller in yon dungeon dark, Hangman of creation! mark, Who in widow-weeds appears, Laden with unhonour'd years, Noosing with care a bursting purse, Baited with many a deadly curse? Strophe View the wither'd Beldam's face; Can thy keen inspection trace Aught of Humanity's sweet, melting grace? Note that eye, 'tis rheum o'erflows; Pity's flood there never rose, See these hands ne'er stretched to save, Hands that took, but never gave: Keeper of Mammon's iron chest, Lo, there she goes, unpitied and unblest, She goes, but not to realms of everlasting rest! Antistrophe Plunderer of Armies! lift thine eyes, (A while forbear, ye torturing fiends;) Seest thou whose step, unwilling, hither bends? No fallen angel, hurl'd from upper skies; 'Tis thy trusty quondam Mate, Doom'd to share thy fiery fate; She, tardy, hell-ward plies. Epode And are they of no more avail, Ten thousand glittering pounds a-year? In other worlds can Mammon fail, Omnipotent as he is here! O, bitter mockery of the pompous bier, While down the wretched Vital Part is driven! The cave-lodged Beggar,with a conscience clear, Expires in rags, unknown, and goes to Heaven.

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Phyllida Law

About this work

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

Themes for this poem

war death religion

Selected for 01 October

Karl Marx published 'Das Kapital' on the first of October 1867. Robert Burns's poems were extremely popular behind the former, 'iron curtain'. The poet's egalitarian ideas can easily be construed as anticipating socialism, but the Bard is also admired by conservatives. Here he inveighs against Mammon. The wealthy woman enslaved by avarice is denied salvation even as the ragged, 'cave-lodged' beggar attains heaven not despite, but because of his poverty. Mary Oswald was a rich woman married to an even richer man. The arrival of her funeral cortege caused Burns to be displaced from the inn at which he was hoping to rest after a hard day's riding. In a letter he described her as being locally 'detested'. When he sent the poem off for anonymous newspaper publication, the accompanying note abominated Oswald's 'iron avarice and sordid pride'.

Donny O'Rourke

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