The Death and Dying Words of Poor Mailie, The Author's Only Pet Yowe, An Unco Mournfu' Tale


As Mailie, an' her lambs thegither, Was ae day nibbling on the tether, Upon her cloot she coost a hitch, An' owre she warsl'd in the ditch: There, groaning, dying, she did ly, When Hughoc he cam doytan by. Wi' glowrin een, and lifted han's, Poor Hughoc like a statue stan's; He saw her days were near hand ended, But, wae's my heart! he could na mend it! He gaped wide, but naething spak, At langth poor Mailie silence brak. "O thou, whase lamentable face Appears to mourn my woefu' case! My dying words attentive hear, An' bear them to my Master dear. Tell him, if e'er again he keep As muckle gear as buy a sheep, O, bid him never tie them mair, Wi' wicked strings o' hemp or hair! But ca' them out to park or hill, An' let them wander at their will: So, may his flock increase, an' grow To scores o' lambs, an' packs of woo' ! Tell him, he was a Master kin', An' aye was guid to me an' mine; An' now my dying charge I gie him, My helpless lambs, I trust them wi' him. O, bid him save their harmless lives, Frae dogs, an' tods, an' butchers' knives! But gie them guid cow-milk their fill, Till they be fit to fend themsel; An' tent them duly, e'en an' morn, Wi' taets o' hay an' ripps o' corn. An' may they never learn the gaets, Of ither vile, wanrestfu' pets! To slink thro' slaps, an' reave an' steal, At stacks o' pease, or stocks o' kail. So may they, like their great forbears, For monie a year come thro the shears: So wives will gie them bits o' bread, An' bairns greet for them when they're dead . My poor toop-lamb, my son an' heir, O, bid him breed him up wi' care! An' if he live to be a beast, To pit some havins in his breast! An' warn him, what I winna name, To stay content wi' yowes at hame; An' no to rin an' wear his cloots, Like ither menseless, graceless brutes. An' niest, my yowie, silly thing, Gude keep thee frae a tether string! O, may thou ne'er forgather up, Wi' ony blastet, moorland toop; But ay keep mind to moop an' mell, Wi' sheep o' credit like thysel'! And now, my bairns, wi' my last breath, I lea'e my blessin wi' you baith: An' when you think upo' your Mither, Mind to be kind to ane anither. Now, honest Hughoc, dinna fail, To tell my Master a' my tale; An' bid him burn this cursed tether, An' for thy pains thou'se get my blather." This said, poor Mailie turn'd her head, And clos'd her een amang the dead!

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Blythe Duff
Eileen McCallum

About this work

This is a poem by Robert Burns. It was written in 1783 and is read here by Blythe Duff.

More about this poem

In a letter to Dr John Moore, Burns intimates that 'The Death and Dying Words of Poor Maillie' is one of his earliest productions. The poem is first recorded in Burns's First Commonplace Book (1785) and is believed to be the poet's first extensive work in the Scots language and was inspired by an incident that took place on the poet's farm at Lochlie.

Here the poet's sheep (tied to a rope in the yard) has become injured a consequence of her lack of freedom. In her dying moments the personified Mailie leaves advice for Burns (her 'Master Dear') and her lambs, with humorous reference to morality and eighteenth-century social mores.

For example, among her concerns is the welfare and manners of her offspring, that her 'son and heir' remains faithful to 'yowes at hame,' and that her daughter does not take up 'wi' ony blastet, moorlan toop' but with 'a sheep o' credit like thysel!'

Pauline Mackay

Themes for this poem

death anguish

Selected for 09 December

Henry MacKenzie, a lawyer, writer, freemason and ubiquitous public presence, edited the literary magazine, 'The Lounger'. An instantly influential rave review of Burns's newly-published Kilmarnock Edition appeared on this day in 1786. His lavishly unstinting praise for the 'Heaven Taught Ploughman' did much to make the poet who had recently left the fields of Ayrshire for the salons of Edinburgh, a literary superstar. The regard was mutual. Burns described MacKenzie's 'Man of Feeling' as 'a book I prize next to the Bible'. Few would nowadays agree. But MacKenzie was the dedicatee nonetheless, of Sir Walter Scott's 'Waverley'. Today’s selection finds the toast of Edinburgh back on the farm.

Donny O'Rourke

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