The Holy Fair

Original Text: 
Robert Burns, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (Kilmarnock, 1786). PR 4300 1786a K5a SMR. (Edinburgh, 1797.) B-10 0051 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
        A note of seeming truth and trust
              Hid crafty observation;
        And secret hung, with poison'd crust,
              The dirk of defamation:
        A mask that like the gorget show'd
              Dye-varying, on the pigeon;
        And for a mantle large and broad,
              He wrapt him in Religion.
2     When Nature's face is fair,
3I walked forth to view the corn
6     Wi' glorious light was glintin,
9          Fu' sweet that day.
11     To see a scene sae gay,
14Twa had manteeles o' dolefu' black,
16The third, that gaed a wee a-back,
17     Was in the fashion shining
18          Fu' gay that day.
19The twa appear'd like sisters twin
20     In feature, form, an' claes;
21Their visage wither'd, lang an' thin,
24     As light as ony lambie,
26     As soon as e'er she saw me,
27          Fu' kind that day.
28Wi' bonnet aff, quoth I, "Sweet lass,
29     I think ye seem to ken me;
30I'm sure I've seen that bonie face,
31     But yet I canna name ye."
32Quo' she, an' laughin as she spak,
33     An' taks me by the han's,
35     Of a' the ten comman's
37"My name is Fun--your cronie dear,
38     The nearest friend ye hae;
39An' this is Superstition here,
40     An' that's Hypocrisy.
44     We will get famous laughin
45          At them this day."
46Quoth I, "With a' my heart, I'll do't:
48An' meet you on the holy spot;
49     Faith, we'se hae fine remarkin!"
51     An' soon I made me ready;
52For roads were clad frae side to side
53     Wi' monie a wearie body
54          In droves that day.
58     Are springin owre the gutters.
60     In silks an' scarlets glitter,
64When by the plate we set our nose,
65     Weel heaped up wi' ha'pence,
67     An' we maun draw our tippence.
68Then in we go to see the show:
69     On ev'ry side they're gath'rin,
72          Right loud that day.
82Here some are thinkin on their sins,
83     An' some upo' their claes;
85     Anither sighs an' prays:
87     Wi' screw'd-up grace-proud faces;
88On that a set o' chaps at watch,
90          To chairs that day.
91O happy is that man and blest!
92     Nae wonder that it pride him!
93Whase ain dear lass that he likes best,
95Wi' arm repos'd on the chair back,
96     He sweetly does compose him;
97Which by degrees slips round her neck,
99          Unken'd that day.
100Now a' the congregation o'er
101     Is silent expectation;
103     Wi' tidings o' salvation.
104Should Hornie, as in ancient days,
105     'Mang sons o' God present him,
107     To's ain het hame had sent him
108          Wi' fright that day.
109Hear how he clears the points o' faith
110     Wi' rattlin an' wi' thumpin!
111Now meekly calm, now wild in wrath
112     He's stampin, an' he's jumpin!
113His lengthen'd chin, his turn'd-up snout,
115Oh, how they fire the heart devout
116     Like cantharidian plaisters,
117          On sic a day!
118But hark! the tent has chang'd its voice:
119     There's peace and rest nae langer;
120For a' the real judges rise,
121     They canna sit for anger.
123     On practice and on morals;
124An' aff the godly pour in thrangs,
125     To gie the jars an' barrels
126          A lift that day.
127What signifies his barren shine
128     Of moral pow'rs and reason?
129His English style an' gesture fine
130     Are a' clean out o' season.
132     Or some auld pagan heathen,
133The moral man he does define,
134     But ne'er a word o' faith in
135          That's right that day.
136In guid time comes an antidote
137     Against sic poison'd nostrum;
139     Ascends the holy rostrum:
140See, up he's got the word o' God
142While Common Sense has ta'en the road,
144          Fast, fast that day.
147Tho' in his heart he weel believes
148     An' thinks it auld wives' fables:
151Altho' his carnal wit an' sense
153          At times that day.
158While thick an' thrang, an' loud an' lang,
159     Wi' logic an' wi' Scripture,
160They raise a din, that in the end
161     Is like to breed a rupture
162          O' wrath that day.
164     Than either school or college
168     Or ony stronger potion,
169It never fails, on drinkin deep,
171          By night or day.
172The lads an' lasses, blythely bent
173     To mind baith saul an' body,
174Sit round the table weel content,
176On this ane's dress an' that ane's leuk
177     They're makin observations;
179     An' forming assignations
180          To meet some day.
183An' echoes back return the shouts--
184     Black Russell is na sparin.
185His piercing words, like highlan' swords,
186     Divide the joints an' marrow;
187His talk o' hell, whare devils dwell,
189          Wi' fright that day.
190A vast, unbottom'd, boundless pit,
192Whase ragin flame, an' scorching heat
193     Wad melt the hardest whun-stane!
194The half-asleep start up wi' fear
195     An' think they hear it roarin,
196When presently it does appear
197     'Twas but some neibor snorin,
198          Asleep that day.
199'Twad be owre lang a tale to tell,
200     How mony stories past,
201An' how they crouded to the yill,
202     When they were a' dismist:
204     Amang the furms an' benches:
205An' cheese and bred frae women's laps
206     Was dealt about in lunches
209     An' sits down by the fire,
211     The lasses they are shyer:
212The auld guidmen, about the grace
213     Frae side to side they bother,
214Till some ane by his bonnet lays,
216          Fu' lang that day.
217Waesucks! for him that gets nae lass,
218     Or lasses that hae naething!
219Sma' need has he to say a grace,
221O wives, be mindfu' ance yoursel
222     How bonie lads ye wanted,
223An' dinna for a kebbuck-heel
224     Let lasses be affronted
225          On sic a day!
229     Some wait the afternoon.
231     Till lasses strip their shoon:
232Wi' faith an' hope, an' love an' drink,
233     They're a' in famous tune
235How monie hearts this day converts
236     O' sinners and o' lasses
238     As saft as ony flesh is.
239There's some are fou o' love divine,
240     There's some are fou o' brandy;
241An' monie jobs that day begin,
243          Some ither day.


1] Burns says: "Holy Fair is a common phrase in the West of Scotland for a Sacramental occasion." Large numbers came from a considerable distance to these services, often bringing with them supplies for the day; so that it was a sort of religious picnic, resembling somewhat the old-fashioned camp-meeting on this continent. There was preaching outside the church, sometimes in a tent, while the communion service was going on within the sacred building. The preachers here described were real persons, and the details are no doubt realistic, though coloured by the satirical purpose. (Asterisks were used instead of names in the Kilmarnock edition.)
simmer: summer. Back to Line
4] caller: fresh. Back to Line
5] Galston: in Ayrshire in the neighbourhood of Burns's home. Back to Line
7] hirplin: hopping.
furrs: furrows. Back to Line
8] lav'rocks: larks. Back to Line
10] glowr'd: stared. Back to Line
12] hizzies: hussies. Back to Line
13] skelpin: hurrying. Back to Line
15] lyart: grey. Back to Line
22] slaes: sloes. Back to Line
23] lowp: leap. Back to Line
25] curchie: curtsey. Back to Line
34] feck: the greater part. Back to Line
36] screed: rip, rent. Back to Line
41] Mauchline: the nearest village to Burns's home. Back to Line
42] daffin: sport. Back to Line
43] runkl'd: wrinkled. Back to Line
47] sark: shirt. Back to Line
50] crowdie-time: porridge-time. Back to Line
55] gash: self-complacent.
graith: gear. Back to Line
56] hoddin: jogging (in their carts). Back to Line
57] swankies: strapping fellows. Back to Line
59] thrang: thronging. Back to Line
61] whang: slice. Back to Line
62] farls: small oat-cakes. Back to Line
63] crump: crisp. Back to Line
66] black-bonnet. The elder who stood at the door with a plate for the collection, wore a black bonnet. Back to Line
70] dails: boards. Back to Line
71] bleth'rin: gabbling. Back to Line
84] fyl'd: soiled, defiled. Back to Line
86] swatch: sample. Back to Line
89] thrang: busy. Back to Line
94] clinkin: indicates quick motion. Back to Line
98] loof: palm of the hand. Back to Line
102] Moodie: the Rev. Alexander Moodie of Riccarton.
speels: climbs. Back to Line
106] Reference to Job, I: 6. Back to Line
114] eldritch: unearthly. Back to Line
122] Smith: the Rev. George Smith of Gaston. Back to Line
131] Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher. the author of the Meditations. Back to Line
138] Peebles: the Rev. William Peebles.
water-fit: water-foot, i.e., mouth of a river; here, Newton-on-Ayr. Back to Line
141] mim: prim. Back to Line
143] Cowgate: name of the street which led from the church at Mauchline. Back to Line
145] Miller: the Rev. Alexander Miller.
niest: next. Back to Line
146] raibles: recites by rote. Back to Line
149] birkie: fellow. Back to Line
150] cannilie: quietly and cunningly.
hums: humbugs. Back to Line
152] Like hafflins-wise: nearly half. Back to Line
154] A Scottish cottage had two main rooms, the kitchen, or but, and the parlour, or ben. The change-house (tavern) was completely filled. Back to Line
155] yill-caup: ale-cup. Back to Line
156] bakes and gills: biscuits and glasses of liquor. Back to Line
157] stowp: a drinking-vessel. Back to Line
163] Leeze me: A blessing on. Back to Line
165] lear: learning. Back to Line
166] pangs: crams. Back to Line
167] penny-wheep: small beer. Back to Line
170] kittle: tickle. Back to Line
175] steer: stir. Back to Line
178] neuk: nook, corner. Back to Line
181] touts: sounds. Back to Line
182] rairin: roaring. Back to Line
188] The words in quotation marks are borrowed from Hamlet, I, v, 14. Back to Line
191] fou: full.
lowing brunstone: flaming brimstone. Back to Line
203] cogs: wooden vessels larger than caups (cups). Back to Line
207] dauds: large pieces. Back to Line
208] gaucie: jolly. Back to Line
210] kebbuck: cheese. Back to Line
215] tether: rope. Back to Line
220] melvie: make dusty. Back to Line
226] Clinkumbell: the bell-ringer.
rattlin tow: rattling rope, i.e., a chain. Back to Line
227] jow and croon: swing and toll. Back to Line
228] dow: can. Back to Line
230] slaps: openings in the hedges.
billies: fellows. Back to Line
234] crack: talk. Back to Line
237] gin night: by nightfall. Back to Line
242] houghmagandie: immorality. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
G. G. Falle
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.305