Robert Burns: Poems


Remorse: A Fragment

Of all the numerous ills that hurt our peace,

That press the soul, or wring the mind with anguish

Beyond comparison the worst are those

By our own folly, or our guilt brought on:

In ev'ry other circumstance, the mind

Has this to say, "It was no deed of mine:"

But, when to all the evil of misfortune

This sting is added, "Blame thy foolish self!"

Or worser far, the pangs of keen remorse,

The torturing, gnawing consciousness of guilt—

Of guilt, perhaps, when we've involved others,

The young, the innocent, who fondly lov'd us;

Nay more, that very love their cause of ruin!

O burning hell! in all thy store of torments

There's not a keener lash!

Lives there a man so firm, who, while his heart

Feels all the bitter horrors of his crime,

Can reason down its agonizing throbs;

And, after proper purpose of amendment,

Can firmly force his jarring thoughts to peace?

O happy, happy, enviable man!

O glorious magnanimity of soul!

Epitaph On Wm. Hood, Senr., In Tarbolton

Here Souter Hood in death does sleep;

To hell if he's gane thither,

Satan, gie him thy gear to keep;

He'll haud it weel thegither.

Epitaph On James Grieve, Laird Of Boghead, Tarbolton

Here lies Boghead amang the dead

In hopes to get salvation;

But if such as he in Heav'n may be,

Then welcome, hail! damnation.

Epitaph On My Own Friend And My Father's Friend, Wm. Muir In Tarbolton Mill

An honest man here lies at rest

As e'er God with his image blest;

The friend of man, the friend of truth,

The friend of age, and guide of youth:

Few hearts like his, with virtue warm'd,

Few heads with knowledge so informed:

If there's another world, he lives in bliss;

If there is none, he made the best of this.

Epitaph On My Ever Honoured Father

O ye whose cheek the tear of pity stains,

Draw near with pious rev'rence, and attend!

Here lie the loving husband's dear remains,

The tender father, and the gen'rous friend;

The pitying heart that felt for human woe,

The dauntless heart that fear'd no human pride;

The friend of man—to vice alone a foe;

For "ev'n his failings lean'd to virtue's side."^1

[Footnote 1: Goldsmith.—R.B.]

Ballad On The American War


When Guilford good our pilot stood

An' did our hellim thraw, man,

Ae night, at tea, began a plea,

Within America, man:

Then up they gat the maskin-pat,

And in the sea did jaw, man;

An' did nae less, in full congress,

Than quite refuse our law, man.

Then thro' the lakes Montgomery takes,

I wat he was na slaw, man;

Down Lowrie's Burn he took a turn,

And Carleton did ca', man:

But yet, whatreck, he, at Quebec,

Montgomery-like did fa', man,

Wi' sword in hand, before his band,

Amang his en'mies a', man.

Poor Tammy Gage within a cage

Was kept at Boston—ha', man;

Till Willie Howe took o'er the knowe

For Philadelphia, man;

Wi' sword an' gun he thought a sin

Guid Christian bluid to draw, man;

But at New York, wi' knife an' fork,

Sir-Loin he hacked sma', man.

Burgoyne gaed up, like spur an' whip,

Till Fraser brave did fa', man;

Then lost his way, ae misty day,

In Saratoga shaw, man.

Cornwallis fought as lang's he dought,

An' did the Buckskins claw, man;

But Clinton's glaive frae rust to save,

He hung it to the wa', man.

Then Montague, an' Guilford too,

Began to fear, a fa', man;

And Sackville dour, wha stood the stour,

The German chief to thraw, man:

For Paddy Burke, like ony Turk,

Nae mercy had at a', man;

An' Charlie Fox threw by the box,

An' lows'd his tinkler jaw, man.

Then Rockingham took up the game,

Till death did on him ca', man;

When Shelburne meek held up his cheek,

Conform to gospel law, man:

Saint Stephen's boys, wi' jarring noise,

They did his measures thraw, man;

For North an' Fox united stocks,

An' bore him to the wa', man.

Then clubs an' hearts were Charlie's cartes,

He swept the stakes awa', man,

Till the diamond's ace, of Indian race,

Led him a sair faux pas, man:

The Saxon lads, wi' loud placads,

On Chatham's boy did ca', man;

An' Scotland drew her pipe an' blew,

"Up, Willie, waur them a', man!"

Behind the throne then Granville's gone,

A secret word or twa, man;

While slee Dundas arous'd the class

Be-north the Roman wa', man:

An' Chatham's wraith, in heav'nly graith,

(Inspired bardies saw, man),

Wi' kindling eyes, cry'd, "Willie, rise!

Would I hae fear'd them a', man?"

But, word an' blow, North, Fox, and Co.

Gowff'd Willie like a ba', man;

Till Suthron raise, an' coost their claise

Behind him in a raw, man:

An' Caledon threw by the drone,

An' did her whittle draw, man;

An' swoor fu' rude, thro' dirt an' bluid,

To mak it guid in law, man.

Reply To An Announcement By J. Rankine On His Writing To The Poet,

That A Girl In That Part Of The Country Was With A Child To Him.

I am a keeper of the law

In some sma' points, altho' not a';

Some people tell me gin I fa',

Ae way or ither,

The breaking of ae point, tho' sma',

Breaks a' thegither.

I hae been in for't ance or twice,

And winna say o'er far for thrice;

Yet never met wi' that surprise

That broke my rest;

But now a rumour's like to rise—

A whaup's i' the nest!

Epistle To John Rankine

Enclosing Some Poems

O Rough, rude, ready-witted Rankine,

The wale o' cocks for fun an' drinkin!

There's mony godly folks are thinkin,

Your dreams and tricks

Will send you, Korah-like, a-sinkin

Straught to auld Nick's.

Ye hae saw mony cracks an' cants,

And in your wicked, drucken rants,

Ye mak a devil o' the saunts,

An' fill them fou;

And then their failings, flaws, an' wants,

Are a' seen thro'.

Hypocrisy, in mercy spare it!

That holy robe, O dinna tear it!

Spare't for their sakes, wha aften wear it—

The lads in black;

But your curst wit, when it comes near it,

Rives't aff their back.

Think, wicked Sinner, wha ye're skaithing:

It's just the Blue-gown badge an' claithing

O' saunts; tak that, ye lea'e them naething

To ken them by

Frae ony unregenerate heathen,

Like you or I.

I've sent you here some rhyming ware,

A' that I bargain'd for, an' mair;

Sae, when ye hae an hour to spare,

I will expect,

Yon sang ye'll sen't, wi' cannie care,

And no neglect.

Tho' faith, sma' heart hae I to sing!

My muse dow scarcely spread her wing;

I've play'd mysel a bonie spring,

An' danc'd my fill!

I'd better gaen an' sair't the king,

At Bunkjer's Hill.

'Twas ae night lately, in my fun,

I gaed a rovin' wi' the gun,

An' brought a paitrick to the grun'—

A bonie hen;

And, as the twilight was begun,

Thought nane wad ken.

The poor, wee thing was little hurt;

I straikit it a wee for sport,

Ne'er thinkin they wad fash me for't;

But, Deil-ma-care!

Somebody tells the poacher-court

The hale affair.

Some auld, us'd hands had taen a note,

That sic a hen had got a shot;

I was suspected for the plot;

I scorn'd to lie;

So gat the whissle o' my groat,

An' pay't the fee.

But by my gun, o' guns the wale,

An' by my pouther an' my hail,

An' by my hen, an' by her tail,

I vow an' swear!

The game shall pay, o'er muir an' dale,

For this, niest year.

As soon's the clockin-time is by,

An' the wee pouts begun to cry,

Lord, I'se hae sporting by an' by

For my gowd guinea,

Tho' I should herd the buckskin kye

For't in Virginia.

Trowth, they had muckle for to blame!

'Twas neither broken wing nor limb,

But twa-three draps about the wame,

Scarce thro' the feathers;

An' baith a yellow George to claim,

An' thole their blethers!

It pits me aye as mad's a hare;

So I can rhyme nor write nae mair;

But pennyworths again is fair,

When time's expedient:

Meanwhile I am, respected Sir,

Your most obedient.

A Poet's Welcome To His Love-Begotten Daughter^1

[Footnote 1: Burns never published this poem.]

The First Instance That Entitled Him To

The Venerable Appellation Of Father

Thou's welcome, wean; mishanter fa' me,

If thoughts o' thee, or yet thy mamie,

Shall ever daunton me or awe me,

My bonie lady,

Or if I blush when thou shalt ca' me

Tyta or daddie.

Tho' now they ca' me fornicator,

An' tease my name in kintry clatter,

The mair they talk, I'm kent the better,

E'en let them clash;

An auld wife's tongue's a feckless matter

To gie ane fash.

Welcome! my bonie, sweet, wee dochter,

Tho' ye come here a wee unsought for,

And tho' your comin' I hae fought for,

Baith kirk and queir;

Yet, by my faith, ye're no unwrought for,

That I shall swear!

Wee image o' my bonie Betty,

As fatherly I kiss and daut thee,

As dear, and near my heart I set thee

Wi' as gude will

As a' the priests had seen me get thee

That's out o' hell.

Sweet fruit o' mony a merry dint,

My funny toil is now a' tint,

Sin' thou came to the warl' asklent,

Which fools may scoff at;

In my last plack thy part's be in't

The better ha'f o't.

Tho' I should be the waur bestead,

Thou's be as braw and bienly clad,

And thy young years as nicely bred

Wi' education,

As ony brat o' wedlock's bed,

In a' thy station.

Lord grant that thou may aye inherit

Thy mither's person, grace, an' merit,

An' thy poor, worthless daddy's spirit,

Without his failins,

'Twill please me mair to see thee heir it,

Than stockit mailens.

For if thou be what I wad hae thee,

And tak the counsel I shall gie thee,

I'll never rue my trouble wi' thee,

The cost nor shame o't,

But be a loving father to thee,

And brag the name o't.

Song—O Leave Novels^1

[Footnote 1: Burns never published this poem.]

O leave novels, ye Mauchline belles,

Ye're safer at your spinning-wheel;

Such witching books are baited hooks

For rakish rooks, like Rob Mossgiel;

Your fine Tom Jones and Grandisons,

They make your youthful fancies reel;

They heat your brains, and fire your veins,

And then you're prey for Rob Mossgiel.

Beware a tongue that's smoothly hung,

A heart that warmly seems to feel;

That feeling heart but acts a part—

'Tis rakish art in Rob Mossgiel.

The frank address, the soft caress,

Are worse than poisoned darts of steel;

The frank address, and politesse,

Are all finesse in Rob Mossgiel.

Fragment—The Mauchline Lady

Tune—"I had a horse, I had nae mair."

When first I came to Stewart Kyle,

My mind it was na steady;

Where'er I gaed, where'er I rade,

A mistress still I had aye.

But when I came roun' by Mauchline toun,

Not dreadin anybody,

My heart was caught, before I thought,

And by a Mauchline lady.

Fragment—My Girl She's Airy

Tune—"Black Jock."

My girl she's airy, she's buxom and gay;

Her breath is as sweet as the blossoms in May;

A touch of her lips it ravishes quite:

She's always good natur'd, good humour'd, and free;

She dances, she glances, she smiles upon me;

I never am happy when out of her sight.

The Belles Of Mauchline

In Mauchline there dwells six proper young belles,

The pride of the place and its neighbourhood a';

Their carriage and dress, a stranger would guess,

In Lon'on or Paris, they'd gotten it a'.

Miss Miller is fine, Miss Markland's divine,

Miss Smith she has wit, and Miss Betty is braw:

There's beauty and fortune to get wi' Miss Morton,

But Armour's the jewel for me o' them a'.

Epitaph On A Noisy Polemic

Below thir stanes lie Jamie's banes;

O Death, it's my opinion,

Thou ne'er took such a bleth'rin bitch

Into thy dark dominion!

Epitaph On A Henpecked Country Squire

As father Adam first was fool'd,

(A case that's still too common,)

Here lies man a woman ruled,

The devil ruled the woman.

Epigram On The Said Occasion

O Death, had'st thou but spar'd his life,

Whom we this day lament,

We freely wad exchanged the wife,

And a' been weel content.

Ev'n as he is, cauld in his graff,

The swap we yet will do't;

Tak thou the carlin's carcase aff,

Thou'se get the saul o'boot.


One Queen Artemisia, as old stories tell,

When deprived of her husband she loved so well,

In respect for the love and affection he show'd her,

She reduc'd him to dust and she drank up the powder.

But Queen Netherplace, of a diff'rent complexion,

When called on to order the fun'ral direction,

Would have eat her dead lord, on a slender pretence,

Not to show her respect, but—to save the expense!

On Tam The Chapman

As Tam the chapman on a day,

Wi'Death forgather'd by the way,

Weel pleas'd, he greets a wight so famous,

And Death was nae less pleas'd wi' Thomas,

Wha cheerfully lays down his pack,

And there blaws up a hearty crack:

His social, friendly, honest heart

Sae tickled Death, they could na part;

Sae, after viewing knives and garters,

Death taks him hame to gie him quarters.

Epitaph On John Rankine

Ae day, as Death, that gruesome carl,

Was driving to the tither warl'

A mixtie—maxtie motley squad,

And mony a guilt-bespotted lad—

Black gowns of each denomination,

And thieves of every rank and station,

From him that wears the star and garter,

To him that wintles in a halter:

Ashamed himself to see the wretches,

He mutters, glowrin at the bitches,

"By God I'll not be seen behint them,

Nor 'mang the sp'ritual core present them,

Without, at least, ae honest man,

To grace this damn'd infernal clan!"

By Adamhill a glance he threw,

"Lord God!" quoth he, "I have it now;

There's just the man I want, i' faith!"

And quickly stoppit Rankine's breath.

Lines On The Author's Death

Written With The Supposed View Of

Being Handed To Rankine After The Poet's Interment

He who of Rankine sang, lies stiff and dead,

And a green grassy hillock hides his head;

Alas! alas! a devilish change indeed.

Man Was Made To Mourn: A Dirge

When chill November's surly blast

Made fields and forests bare,

One ev'ning, as I wander'd forth

Along the banks of Ayr,

I spied a man, whose aged step

Seem'd weary, worn with care;

His face furrow'd o'er with years,

And hoary was his hair.

"Young stranger, whither wand'rest thou?"

Began the rev'rend sage;

"Does thirst of wealth thy step constrain,

Or youthful pleasure's rage?

Or haply, prest with cares and woes,

Too soon thou hast began

To wander forth, with me to mourn

The miseries of man.

"The sun that overhangs yon moors,

Out-spreading far and wide,

Where hundreds labour to support

A haughty lordling's pride;—

I've seen yon weary winter-sun

Twice forty times return;

And ev'ry time has added proofs,

That man was made to mourn.

"O man! while in thy early years,

How prodigal of time!

Mis-spending all thy precious hours—

Thy glorious, youthful prime!

Alternate follies take the sway;

Licentious passions burn;

Which tenfold force gives Nature's law.

That man was made to mourn.

"Look not alone on youthful prime,

Or manhood's active might;

Man then is useful to his kind,

Supported in his right:

But see him on the edge of life,

With cares and sorrows worn;

Then Age and Want—oh! ill-match'd pair—

Shew man was made to mourn.

"A few seem favourites of fate,

In pleasure's lap carest;

Yet, think not all the rich and great

Are likewise truly blest:

But oh! what crowds in ev'ry land,

All wretched and forlorn,

Thro' weary life this lesson learn,

That man was made to mourn.

"Many and sharp the num'rous ills

Inwoven with our frame!

More pointed still we make ourselves,

Regret, remorse, and shame!

And man, whose heav'n-erected face

The smiles of love adorn,—

Man's inhumanity to man

Makes countless thousands mourn!

"See yonder poor, o'erlabour'd wight,

So abject, mean, and vile,

Who begs a brother of the earth

To give him leave to toil;

And see his lordly fellow-worm

The poor petition spurn,

Unmindful, tho' a weeping wife

And helpless offspring mourn.

"If I'm design'd yon lordling's slave,

By Nature's law design'd,

Why was an independent wish

E'er planted in my mind?

If not, why am I subject to

His cruelty, or scorn?

Or why has man the will and pow'r

To make his fellow mourn?

"Yet, let not this too much, my son,

Disturb thy youthful breast:

This partial view of human-kind

Is surely not the last!

The poor, oppressed, honest man

Had never, sure, been born,

Had there not been some recompense

To comfort those that mourn!

"O Death! the poor man's dearest friend,

The kindest and the best!

Welcome the hour my aged limbs

Are laid with thee at rest!

The great, the wealthy fear thy blow

From pomp and pleasure torn;

But, oh! a blest relief for those

That weary-laden mourn!"

The Twa Herds; Or, The Holy Tulyie

An Unco Mournfu' Tale

"Blockheads with reason wicked wits abhor,

But fool with fool is barbarous civil war,"—Pope.

O a' ye pious godly flocks,

Weel fed on pastures orthodox,

Wha now will keep you frae the fox,

Or worrying tykes?

Or wha will tent the waifs an' crocks,

About the dykes?

The twa best herds in a' the wast,

The e'er ga'e gospel horn a blast

These five an' twenty simmers past—

Oh, dool to tell!

Hae had a bitter black out-cast

Atween themsel'.

O, Moddie,^1 man, an' wordy Russell,^2

How could you raise so vile a bustle;

Ye'll see how New-Light herds will whistle,

An' think it fine!

The Lord's cause ne'er gat sic a twistle,

Sin' I hae min'.

O, sirs! whae'er wad hae expeckit

Your duty ye wad sae negleckit,

Ye wha were ne'er by lairds respeckit

To wear the plaid;

But by the brutes themselves eleckit,

To be their guide.

What flock wi' Moodie's flock could rank?—

Sae hale and hearty every shank!

Nae poison'd soor Arminian stank

He let them taste;

Frae Calvin's well, aye clear, drank,—

O, sic a feast!

[Footnote 1: Rev. Mr. Moodie of Riccarton.]

[Footnote 2: Rev. John Russell of Kilmarnock.]

The thummart, willcat, brock, an' tod,

Weel kend his voice thro' a' the wood,

He smell'd their ilka hole an' road,

Baith out an in;

An' weel he lik'd to shed their bluid,

An' sell their skin.

What herd like Russell tell'd his tale;

His voice was heard thro' muir and dale,

He kenn'd the Lord's sheep, ilka tail,

Owre a' the height;

An' saw gin they were sick or hale,

At the first sight.

He fine a mangy sheep could scrub,

Or nobly fling the gospel club,

And New-Light herds could nicely drub

Or pay their skin;

Could shake them o'er the burning dub,

Or heave them in.

Sic twa—O! do I live to see't?—

Sic famous twa should disagree't,

And names, like "villain," "hypocrite,"

Ilk ither gi'en,

While New-Light herds, wi' laughin spite,

Say neither's liein!

A' ye wha tent the gospel fauld,

There's Duncan^3 deep, an' Peebles^4 shaul,

But chiefly thou, apostle Auld,^5

We trust in thee,

That thou wilt work them, het an' cauld,

Till they agree.

Consider, sirs, how we're beset;

There's scarce a new herd that we get,

But comes frae 'mang that cursed set,

I winna name;

I hope frae heav'n to see them yet

In fiery flame.

[Footnote 3: Dr. Robert Duncan of Dundonald.]

[Footnote 4: Rev. Wm. Peebles of Newton-on-Ayr.]

[Footnote 5: Rev. Wm. Auld of Mauchline.]

Dalrymple^6 has been lang our fae,

M'Gill^7 has wrought us meikle wae,

An' that curs'd rascal ca'd M'Quhae,^8

And baith the Shaws,^9

That aft hae made us black an' blae,

Wi' vengefu' paws.

Auld Wodrow^10 lang has hatch'd mischief;

We thought aye death wad bring relief;

But he has gotten, to our grief,

Ane to succeed him,^11

A chield wha'll soundly buff our beef;

I meikle dread him.

And mony a ane that I could tell,

Wha fain wad openly rebel,

Forby turn-coats amang oursel',

There's Smith^12 for ane;

I doubt he's but a grey nick quill,

An' that ye'll fin'.

O! a' ye flocks o'er a, the hills,

By mosses, meadows, moors, and fells,

Come, join your counsel and your skills

To cowe the lairds,

An' get the brutes the power themsel's

To choose their herds.

Then Orthodoxy yet may prance,

An' Learning in a woody dance,

An' that fell cur ca'd Common Sense,

That bites sae sair,

Be banished o'er the sea to France:

Let him bark there.

Then Shaw's an' D'rymple's eloquence,

M'Gill's close nervous excellence

[Footnote 6: Rev. Dr. Dalrymple of Ayr.]

[Footnote 7: Rev. Wm. M'Gill, colleague of Dr. Dalrymple.]

[Footnote 8: Minister of St. Quivox.]

[Footnote 9: Dr. Andrew Shaw of Craigie, and Dr. David Shaw of


[Footnote 10: Dr. Peter Wodrow of Tarbolton.]

[Footnote 11: Rev. John M'Math, a young assistant and successor

to Wodrow.]

[Footnote 12: Rev. George Smith of Galston.]

M'Quhae's pathetic manly sense,

An' guid M'Math,

Wi' Smith, wha thro' the heart can glance,

May a' pack aff.