From Lines to William Simson

Original Text: 
Robert Burns, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (Kilmarnock, 1786). PR 4300 1786a K5a SMR. B-10 0051 Fisher Library.
4        But tune their lays,
5Till echoes a' resound again
6        Her weel-sung praise.
7Nae poet thought her worth his while
8To set her name in measur'd style:
9She lay like some unken'd-of isle
11Or whare wild-meeting oceans boil
15Yarrow and Tweed to mony a tune
18        Naebody sings.
20Glide sweet in mony a tunefu' line;
22        And cock your crest,
24        Up wi' the best!
25We'll sing auld Coila's plains an' fells,
26Her moors red-brown wi' heather bells,
31At Wallace' name what Scottish blood
33Oft have our fearless fathers strode
34        By Wallace' side,
36        Or glorious dy'd.
37O sweet are Coila's haughs an' woods,.
38When lintwhites chant amang the buds,
39And jinkin hares in amorous whids
40        Their loves enjoy,
41While thro' the braes the cushat croods
42        Wi' wailfu' cry!
43Ev'n winter bleak has charms to me,
44When winds rave thro' the naked tree;
45Or frosts on hills of Ochiltree
46        Are hoary gray;
47Or blinding drifts wild-furious flee,
48        Dark'ning the day!
49O Nature! a' thy shews an' forms
50To feeling, pensive hearts hae charms!
51Whether the summer kindly warms
52        Wi' life an' light,
53Or winter howls in gusty storms
54        The lang, dark night!
55The Muse, nae poet ever fand her,
56Till by himsel he learn'd to wander
57Adoun some trottin burn's meander,
58        And no think lang;
59O sweet to stray and pensive ponder
60        A heart-felt sang!
61The warly race may drudge and drive,
62Hog-shouther, jundie, stretch an' strive:
63Let me fair nature's face descrive,
64        And I wi' pleasure
65Shall let the busy, grumbling hive
66        Bum owre their treasure.


1] These lines were addressed to William Simson, the schoolmaster of Ochiltree in Ayrshire, May 1785. They are a statement of Burns's ambition to vie with Scottish poets already famous, by celebrating the scenic beauties and romantic associations of his own district.
Coila. The poetic name for Kyle the district of Ayrshire between the rivers Irvine and Doon.
fidge fu' fain. Fidget full gladly, wriggle or tremble with delight. Back to Line
2] bardies o' her ain. Poets of her own. Back to Line
3] chiels. Fellows.
their chanters. The pipes of their bag-pipes.
hain. Spare. Back to Line
10] New Holland. The former name for Australia. Back to Line
12] Magellan. Strait between Tierra del Fuego and the mainland of South America. Back to Line
13] Ramsay. Allan Ramsay (1686-1758), an Edinburgh bookseller, editor, and poet. By his collections entitled Evergreen (1724) and Tea Table Miscellany (1724-27), he helped to revive interest in the older Scottish poems and ballads. His play, The Gentle Shepherd (1725), and his poems (1728) encouraged the use of the Scottish dialect for literary composition.
Fergusson. Robert Fergusson (1750-1774), an Edinburgh lawyer's clerk and poet who used the Scottish dialect. Some of his satirical and descriptive poems afforded a model for Burns. His premature death was hastened by poverty and dissipation. Back to Line
14] a lift aboon. A lift-up. Back to Line
16] Yarrow and Tweed...rings, e.g., in "The Braes of Yarrow." Back to Line
17] Irwin, Lugar, Ayr, and Doon. Rivers of Ayrshire. Back to Line
19] Ilissus. The well-known river of Athens. Back to Line
21] fit. Foot. Back to Line
23] gar. Make.
burnies. Little brooks. Back to Line
27] dens. Glens, wooded hollows. Back to Line
28] Wallace. The liberator of Scotland from English rule, defeated the English at Stirling Brig, 1297; defeated by Edward I at Falkirk, 1298; executed in London, 1305. These with many events unknown in history are related in a 15th-century poem attributed to one Blind Harry the minstrel, which in a modernized version by Hamilton of Gilbertfield, Burns had read in early youth and which had deeply impressed him. Many of Wallace's strategems and surprises of the English there recorded, occured in Ayrshire, where Wallace had an uncle, Sir Reginald Crawford. Back to Line
29] bure the gree. Carried off the prize. Back to Line
30] Southron billies. English fellows. Back to Line
32] boils up. Burns says of Hamilton of Gilbertfield's version of the Wallace: "it poured a Scottish prejudice in my veins, which will boil along there till the flood-gates of life shut in eternal rest." Back to Line
35] red-wat-shod: red-wet-shod, shod with blood. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
W. J. Alexander; William Hall Clawson
RPO Edition: 
RP (1912), 82-84.