To W. Simpson, Ochiltree


I Gat your letter, winsome Willie; Wi' gratefu' heart I thank you brawlie; Tho' I maun say 't, I wad be silly, An' unco vain, Should I believe, my coaxin billie, Your flatterin strain. But I'se believe ye kindly meant it, I sud be laith to think ye hinted Ironic satire, sidelins sklented, On my poor Musie; Tho' in sic phraisin terms ye've penn'd it, I scarce excuse ye. My senses wad be in a creel, Should I but dare a hope to speel, Wi' Allan, or wi' Gilbertfield, The braes o' fame; Or Fergusson, the writer-chiel, A deathless name. (O Fergusson! thy glorious parts, Ill suited law's dry, musty arts! My curse upon your whunstane hearts, Ye Enbrugh gentry! The tithe o' what ye waste at cartes Wad stow'd his pantry!) Yet when a tale comes i' my head, Or lassies gie my heart a screed, As whiles they're like to be my dead, (O sad disease!) I kittle up my rustic reed; It gies me ease. Auld Coila, now, may fidge fu' fain, She's gotten Bardies o' her ain, Chiels wha their chanters winna hain, But tune their lays, Till echoes a' resound again Her weel-sung praise. Nae poet thought her worth his while, To set her name in measur'd style; She lay like some unkend-of-isle Beside New Holland, Or whare wild-meeting oceans boil Besouth Magellan. Ramsay an' famous Ferguson Gied Forth an' Tay a lift aboon; Yarrow an' Tweed, to monie a tune, Owre Scotland rings, While Irwin, Lugar, Aire, an' Doon Naebody sings. Th' Illissus, Tiber, Thames, an' Seine, Glide sweet in monie a tunefu' line: But Willie, set your fit to mine, An' cock your crest; We'll gar our streams an' burnies shine Up wi' the best. We'll sing auld COILA'S plains an' fells, Her moors red-brown wi' heather bells, Her banks an' braes, her dens an' dells, Whare glorious WALLACE Aft bure the gree, as story tells, Frae Suthron billies. At WALLACE' name, what Scottish blood, But boils up in a spring-tide flood! Oft have our fearless fathers strode By WALLACE' side, Still pressing onward, red-wat-shod, Or glorious dy'd! O sweet are COILA'S haughs an' woods, When lintwhites chant amang the buds, And jinkin hares, in amorous whids, Their loves enjoy; While thro' the braes the cushat croods With wailfu' cry! Ev'n winter bleak has charms to me, When winds rave thro' the naked tree; Or frosts on hills of Ochiltree Are hoary gray; Or blinding drifts wild-furious flee, Dark'ning the day! O NATURE! a' thy shews an' forms To feeling, pensive hearts hae charms! Whether the Summer kindly warms, Wi' life an light, Or Winter howls, in gusty storms, The lang, dark night! The Muse, nae Poet ever fand her, Till by himsel he learn'd to wander, Adown some trottin burn's meander, An' no think lang; O sweet, to stray, an' pensive ponder A heart-felt sang! The warly race may drudge an' drive, Hog-shouther, jundie, stretch, an' strive, Let me fair NATURE'S face descrive, And I, wi' pleasure, Shall let the busy, grumbling hive Bum owre their treasure. Fareweel, 'my rhyme-composing brither!' We've been owre lang unkenn'd to ither: Now let us lay our heads thegither, In love fraternal: May Envy wallop in a tether, Black fiend, infernal! While Highlandmen hate tolls an' taxes; While moorlan herds like guid, fat braxies; While Terra firma, on her axis, Diurnal turns; Count on a friend, in faith an' practice, In ROBERT BURNS. Postcript My memory's no worth a preen; I had amaist forgotten clean, Ye bade me write you what they mean By this new-light, 'Bout which our herds sae aft hae been Maist like to fight. In days when mankind were but callans At Grammar, Logic, an' sic talents, They took nae pains their speech to balance, Or rules to gie; But spak their thoughts in plain, braid lallans, Like you or me. In thae auld times, they thought the Moon, Just like a sark, or pair o' shoon, Woor by degrees, till her last roon Gaed past their viewin, An' shortly after she was done They gat a new ane. This passed for certain, undisputed; It ne'er cam i' their heads to doubt it, Till chiels gat up an' wad confute it, An' ca'd it wrang; An' muckle din there was about it, Baith loud an' lang. Some herds, weel learn'd upo' the beuk, Wad threap auld folk the thing misteuk; For 'twas the auld moon turn'd a newk An' out of' sight, An' backlins-comin, to the leuk, She grew mair bright. This was deny'd, it was affirm'd; The herds an' hissels were alarm'd; The rev'rend gray-beards rav'd an' storm'd, That beardless laddies Should think they better were inform'd, Than their auld dadies. Frae less to mair, it gaed to sticks; Frae words an' aiths to clours an' nicks; An' monie a fallow gat his licks, Wi' hearty crunt; An' some, to learn them for their tricks, Were hang'd an' brunt. This game was play'd in monie lands, An' auld-light caddies bure sic hands, That faith, the youngsters took the sands Wi' nimble shanks, Till Lairds forbad, by strict commands, Sic bluidy pranks. But new-light herds gat sic a cowe, Folk thought them ruin'd stick-an-stowe; Till now amaist on ev'ry knowe Ye'll find ane plac'd; An' some, their New-light fair avow, Just quite barefac'd. Nae doubt the auld-light flocks are bleatan; Their zealous herds are vex'd an' sweatan; Mysel, I've ev'n seen them greetan Wi' girnin spite, To hear the Moon sae sadly lie'd on By word an' write. But shortly they will cowe the louns! Some auld-light herds in neebor towns Are mind't, in things they ca' balloons, To tak a flight; An' stay ae month amang the moons An' see them right. Guid observation they will gie them; An' when the auld Moon's gaun to lea'e them, The hindmost shaird, they'll fetch it wi' them, Just i' their pouch; An' when the new-light billies see them, I think they'll crouch! Sae, ye observe that a' this clatter Is naething but a 'moonshine matter'; But tho' dull prose-folk Latin splatter In logic tulzie, I hope we, Bardies, ken some better Than mind sic brulzie.

Listen

Gerry Carruthers

About this work

This is an epistle by Robert Burns. It was written in 1785 and is read here by Gerry Carruthers.

Themes for this epistle

poetry nature nationalism

Selected for 16 May

William Simpson had written to his friend praising the religious satire, 'The Holy Tulzie'. That letter is lost. Today’s poem, the Bard's reply, talks about poetry, theology and sheep herding. Burns praises his poetic predecessors, complains about reactionary Calvinism ('auld light flocks are bleatan') and enthuses about the sport of competitive sheep penning, affray. The letter is a lively one. We had one of Burns's verse epistles yesterday (May 15th). This was a poetic (and social) form in which he excelled. So here is another example, also written in May, though in the previous year, 1785.

Donny O'Rourke

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