On the Birth of a Posthumous Child, born in peculiar circumstances of Family-Distress


Sweet flow'ret, pledge o' meikle love, And ward o' mony a prayer, What heart o' stane wad thou na move, Sae helpless, sweet, and fair. November hirples o'er the lea, Chill, on thy lovely form: And gane, alas! the shelt'ring tree, Should shield thee frae the storm. May He who gives the rain to pour, And wings the blast to blaw, Protect thee frae the driving show'r, The bitter frost and snaw. May He, the friend o' Woe and Want, Who heals life's various stounds, Protect and guard the mother plant, And heal her cruel wounds. But late she flourish'd, rooted fast, Fair on the summer morn: Now, feebly bends she, in the blast, Unshelter'd and forlorn. Blest be thy bloom, thou lovely gem, Unscath'd by ruffian hand! And from thee many a parent stem Arise to deck our land.

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Liam Brennan

About this work

This is a poem by Robert Burns. It was written in 1790 and is read here by Liam Brennan.

More about this poem

Burns wrote 'On the Birth of a Posthumous Child, born in peculiar circumstances of Family-Distress' in response to the death of James Henri (d.1790), the son-in-law of Burns's good friend and patron, Frances Dunlop (1730-1815).

In the months following Henri's death his wife Susan (d.1792) gave birth to their first child. Burns adopts nature as a metaphor for the mourning family's exposure to hardship in the absence of a father and husband, a 'sheltering tree', while appealing to God, the commander of nature, to protect the family in his absence.

These verses are therefore a tender and sincere expression of sympathy and concern for the family's welfare.

Pauline Mackay

Themes for this poem

death future nature

Selected for 22 November

On other days this month we have had or can look forward to, poems featuring frost and mist. Time now for some early winter chill. In this selection, as, 'November hirples o'er the lea...', the death of a child, correspondingly lowers the emotional temperature too.

Donny O'Rourke

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