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The Guidwife of Wauchope-House, to Robert Burns, the Airshire Bard


My canty, witty, rhyming ploughman, I hafflins doubt, it is na' true, man, That ye between the stilts was bred, Wi' ploughman school'd, w' ploughman fed. I doubt it sair, ye've drawn your knowledge Either frae grammar school, or colledge. Guid troth, your saul and body baith War' better fed, I'd gie my aith, Than theirs, who sup sour milk and parritch, An' bummil thro' the single caritch. Whaever heard the ploughman speak, Could tell gif Homer was a Greek? He'd flee as soon upon a cudgel, As get a single line of Virgil. An' then sae slee ye crack your jokes O' Willie Pitt and Charlie Fox. Our great men a' sae weel descrive, An' how to gar the nation thrive, Ane maist wad swear ye dwalt amang them, An' as ye saw them, sae ye sang them. But be ye ploughman, be ye peer, Ye are a funny blade, I swear. An' tho' the cauld I ill can bide, Yet twenty miles, an' mair, I'd ride, O'er moss, an' muir, an' never grumble, Tho' my auld yad shou'd gae a stumble, To crack a winter-night wi' thee, An' hear thy sangs, an' sonnets slee. A guid saut herring, an' a cake Wi' sic a chiel a feast wad make. I'd rather scour your rumming yill, Or eat o' cheese and bread my fill, Than wi' dull lairds on turtle dine, An' ferlie at their wit and wine. O, gif I kend but whare ye baide, I'd send to you a marled plaid; 'Twad haud your shoulders warm and braw, An' douse at kirk, or market shaw. Far south, as weel as north, my lad, A' honest Scotsmen lo'e the maud Right wae that we're sae far frae ither; Yet proud I am to ca' ye brither.

Listen

Denis Lawson

About this work

This is a poem by Robert Burns. It was written in 1787 and is read here by Denis Lawson.

More about this poem

This epistle was composed by Elizabeth Scott (1729 - 1789), an Edinburgh poetess, and sent to Robert Burns in admiration of the poet's Kilmarnock edition of Poems, Chiefly in the Scots Dialect (1787).

Following her death, Elizabeth Scott's family published her work in the edition Alonzo and Cora with other Original Poems, Principally Elegiac to which are added Letters in Verse by Blacklock and Burns (1801).

In the edition, Scott's epistle is immediately followed by Burns's response, 'Robert Burns's Answer'. That Burns replied in verse would suggest that he was impressed by the poetess's work.

Following their poetic correspondence, Burns briefly met Elizabeth during his tour of the Scottish borders in 1787.

Pauline Mackay

Selected for 27 February

In Burns's day, the recipient generally paid the postage on letters. The considerable amounts of fan mail must have cost the poet a great deal in patience as well as pence, since the verse his fame attracted was mostly vapid or vile. Elisabeth Scott's poem, arriving in February 1787, proved a notable exception. She was, after all, the niece of Alicia Cockburn author of the haunting Flodden lament, 'The Flowers Of The Forest'. Burns's grateful and gracious response to her flattery was the only verse epistle he ever addressed to a woman. Later that year, the, 'canty, witty, rhyming ploughman', was to visit his admirer at her home near Jedburgh. According to her guest, the then 50-something widow, had 'all the sense, taste, intrepidity of face, and bold, critical decision, which usually distinguish female authors'. She got her reciprocally ingratiating reply in March, one of only two poems written in Scots during Burns time in Edinburgh.

Donny O'Rourke

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