To the Memory of the Unfortunate Miss Burns

Like to a fading flower in May, Which Gardner cannot save, So Beauty must, sometime, decay And drop into the grave. Fair Burns, for long the talk and toast Of many a gaudy Beau, That Beauty has forever lost That made each bosom glow. Think, fellow sisters, on her fate! Think, think how short her days! Oh! Think, and, e'er it be too late, Turn from your evil ways. Beneath this cold, green sod lies dead That once bewitching dame That fired Edina's lustful sons, And quench'd their glowing flame.


Karen Dunbar

About this work

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

More about this poem

This poem was written in response to the death of an Edinburgh prostitute, Margaret Burns (d. 1792). While there is no manuscript evidence to attribute the poem to Robert Burns, it certainly expresses commiseration for Miss Burns, her demise and faded beauty, much in the same way as Burns does in a letter to the bookseller Peter Hill dated 02 February 1790.

In the letter, Burns responds to the judicial trial of his 'poor namesake' for running a brothel, by expressing pity for her 'frailty' and by condemning the 'selfish appetites' of those men who propagate prostitution and ultimately lead women such as 'Miss Burns' into ruin.

Pauline Mackay

Themes for this poem

death beauty

Skip to top

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.