The Cotter's Saturday Night
Robert Burns, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (Kilmarnock, 1786). PR 4300 1786a K5a SMR.
Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile,
The short and simple annals of the poor.
(Gray, "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard")
My lov'd, my honour'd, much respected friend!
2 No mercenary bard his homage pays;
3 With honest pride, I scorn each selfish end:
4 My dearest meed a friend's esteem and praise.
5 To you I sing, in simple Scottish lays,
6 The lowly train in life's sequester'd scene;
7 The native feelings strong, the guileless ways;
8 What Aiken in a cottage would have been;
9Ah! tho' his worth unknown, far happier there, I ween!
10 November chill blaws loud wi' angry sugh,
11 The short'ning winter day is near a close;
12 The miry beasts retreating frae the pleugh,
13 The black'ning trains o' craws to their repose;
14 The toil-worn Cotter frae his labour goes,--
15 This night his weekly moil is at an end,--
16 Collects his spades, his mattocks and his hoes,
17 Hoping the morn in ease and rest to spend,
18And weary, o'er the moor, his course does hameward bend.
19 At length his lonely cot appears in view,
20 Beneath the shelter of an aged tree;
21 Th' expectant wee-things, toddlin, stacher through
22 To meet their dad, wi' flichterin noise an' glee.
23 His wee bit ingle, blinkin bonilie,
24 His clean hearth-stane, his thrifty wifie's smile,
25 The lisping infant prattling on his knee,
26 Does a' his weary kiaugh and care beguile,
27An' makes him quite forget his labour an' his toil.
28 Belyve, the elder bairns come drapping in,
29 At service out, amang the farmers roun';
30 Some ca' the pleugh, some herd, some tentie rin
31 A cannie errand to a neibor toun:
32 Their eldest hope, their Jenny, woman-grown,
33 In youthfu' bloom, love sparkling in her e'e,
34 Comes hame, perhaps, to shew a braw new gown,
35 Or deposite her sair-won penny-fee,
36To help her parents dear, if they in hardship be.
37 With joy unfeign'd, brothers and sisters meet,
38 An' each for other's weelfare kindly spiers:
39 The social hours, swift-wing'd, unnotic'd fleet;
40 Each tells the uncos that he sees or hears.
41 The parents partial eye their hopeful years;
42 Anticipation forward points the view;
43 The mother, wi' her needle an' her sheers,
44 Gars auld claes look amaist as weel's the new;
45The father mixes a' wi' admonition due.
46 Their master's an' their mistress's command
47 The younkers a' are warned to obey;
48 An' mind their labours wi' an eydent hand,
49 An' ne'er tho' out o' sight, to jauk or play:
50 "An' O! be sure to fear the Lord alway,
51 An' mind your duty, duly, morn an' night!
52 Lest in temptation's path ye gang astray,
53 Implore his counsel and assisting might:
54They never sought in vain that sought the Lord aright!"
55 But hark! a rap comes gently to the door.
56 Jenny, wha kens the meaning o' the same,
57 Tells how a neebor lad cam o'er the moor,
58 To do some errands, and convoy her hame.
59 The wily mother sees the conscious flame
60 Sparkle in Jenny's e'e, and flush her cheek;
61 Wi' heart-struck, anxious care, inquires his name,
62 While Jenny hafflins is afraid to speak;
63Weel-pleas'd the mother hears, it's nae wild, worthless rake.
64 Wi' kindly welcome Jenny brings him ben,
65 A strappin youth; he takes the mother's eye;
66 Blythe Jenny sees the visit's no ill taen;
67 The father cracks of horses, pleughs, and kye.
68 The youngster's artless heart o'erflows wi' joy,
69 But, blate and laithfu', scarce can weel behave;
70 The mother wi' a woman's wiles can spy
71 What maks the youth sae bashfu' an' sae grave,
72Weel pleas'd to think her bairn's respected like the lave.
73 O happy love! where love like this is found!
74 O heart-felt raptures! bliss beyond compare!
75 I've paced much this weary, mortal round,
76 And sage experience bids me this declare--
77 "If Heaven a draught of heavenly pleasure spare,
78 One cordial in this melancholy vale,
79 'Tis when a youthful, loving, modest pair,
80 In other's arms breathe out the tender tale,
81Beneath the milk-white thorn that scents the ev'ning gale."
82 Is there, in human form, that bears a heart,
83 A wretch! a villain! lost to love and truth!
84 That can with studied, sly, ensnaring art
85 Betray sweet Jenny's unsuspecting youth?
86 Curse on his perjur'd arts! dissembling smooth!
87 Are honour, virtue, conscience, all exil'd?
88 Is there no pity, no relenting truth,
89 Points to the parents fondling o'er their child,
90Then paints the ruin'd maid, and their distraction wild?
91 But now the supper crowns their simple board,
92 The halesome parritch, chief of Scotia's food;
93 The soupe their only hawkie does afford,
94 That yont the hallan snugly chows her cud.
95 The dame brings forth, in complimental mood,
96 To grace the lad, her weel-hain'd kebbuck fell,
97 An' aft he's prest, an' aft he ca's it guid;
98 The frugal wifie, garrulous, will tell,
99How 'twas a towmond auld, sin' lint was i' the bell.
100 The cheerfu' supper done, wi' serious face,
101 They round the ingle form a circle wide;
102 The sire turns o'er, with patriarchal grace,
103 The big ha'-Bible, ance his father's pride;
104 His bonnet rev'rently is laid aside,
105 His lyart haffets wearing thin and bare;
106 Those strains that once did sweet in Zion glide,
107 He wales a portion with judicious care;
108And, "Let us worship God," he says with solemn air.
109 They chant their artless notes in simple guise;
110 They tune their hearts, by far the noblest aim:
111 Perhaps Dundee's wild-warbling measures rise,
112 Or plaintive Martyrs, worthy of the name,
113 Or noble Elgin beets the heaven-ward flame,
114 The sweetest far of Scotia's holy lays.
115 Compar'd with these, Italian trills are tame;
116 The tickl'd ear no heart-felt raptures raise;
117Nae unison hae they, with our Creator's praise.
118 The priest-like father reads the sacred page,
119 How Abram was the friend of God on high;
120 Or Moses bade eternal warfare wage
121 With Amalek's ungracious progeny;
122 Or how the royal bard did groaning lie
123 Beneath the stroke of Heaven's avenging ire;
124 Or Job's pathetic plaint, and wailing cry;
125 Or rapt Isaiah's wild, seraphic fire;
126Or other holy seers that tune the sacred lyre.
127 Perhaps the Christian volume is the theme,
128 How guiltless blood for guilty man was shed;
129 How He, who bore in Heaven the second name
130 Had not on earth whereon to lay His head:
131 How His first followers and servants sped;
132 The precepts sage they wrote to many a land:
133 How he, who lone in Patmos banished,
134 Saw in the sun a mighty angel stand,
135And heard great Bab'lon's doom pronounc'd by Heaven's command.
136 Then kneeling down to Heaven's Eternal King,
137 The saint, the father, and the husband prays:
138 Hope "springs exulting on triumphant wing,"
139 That thus they all shall meet in future days:
140 There ever bask in uncreated rays,
141 No more to sigh or shed the bitter tear,
142 Together hymning their Creator's praise,
143 In such society, yet still more dear,
144While circling Time moves round in an eternal sphere.
145 Compar'd with this, how poor Religion's pride
146 In all the pomp of method and of art,
147 When men display to congregations wide
148 Devotion's ev'ry grace except the heart!
149 The Pow'r, incens'd, the pageant will desert,
150 The pompous strain, the sacerdotal stole;
151 But haply in some cottage far apart
152 May hear, well pleas'd, the language of the soul,
153And in His Book of Life the inmates poor enrol.
154 Then homeward all take off their sev'ral way;
155 The youngling cottagers retire to rest;
156 The parent-pair their secret homage pay,
157 And proffer up to Heav'n the warm request,
158 That He who stills the raven's clam'rous nest,
159 And decks the lily fair in flow'ry pride,
160 Would, in the way His wisdom sees the best,
161 For them and for their little ones provide;
162But chiefly, in their hearts with grace divine preside.
163 From scenes like these old Scotia's grandeur springs,
164 That makes her lov'd at home, rever'd abroad:
165 Princes and lords are but the breath of kings,
166 "An honest man's the noblest work of God":
167 And certes, in fair Virtue's heavenly road,
168 The cottage leaves the palace far behind:
169 What is a lordling's pomp? a cumbrous load,
170 Disguising oft the wretch of human kind,
171Studied in arts of hell, in wickedness refin'd!
172 O Scotia! my dear, my native soil!
173 For whom my warmest wish to Heaven is sent!
174 Long may thy hardy sons of rustic toil
175 Be blest with health, and peace, and sweet content!
176 And, oh! may Heaven their simple lives prevent
177 From luxury's contagion, weak and vile!
178 Then, howe'er crowns and coronets be rent,
179 A virtuous populace may rise the while,
180And stand a wall of fire around their much-lov'd isle.
181 O Thou! who pour'd the patriotic tide
182 That stream'd thro' Wallace's undaunted heart,
183 Who dar'd to nobly stem tyrannic pride,
184 Or nobly die, the second glorious part,--
185 (The patriot's God peculiarly thou art,
186 His friend, inspirer, guardian, and reward!)
187 O never, never Scotia's realm desert,
188 But still the patriot, and the patriot-bard,
189In bright succession raise, her ornament and guard!
Publication Start Year:
RPO poem Editors:
N. J. Endicott