The Cotter's Saturday Night

Original Text: 
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")
1  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
RPO Edition: 
2RP 1.786.