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The Brigs Of Ayr

Inscribed to John Ballantine, Esq., Ayr

 

Burns Original

Standard English Translation



The Brigs Of Ayr

Sir, think not with a mercenary view
Some servile Sycophant approaches you.
To you my Muse would sing these simple lays,
To you my heart its grateful homage pays,
I feel the weight of all your kindness past,
But thank you not as wishing it to last;
Scorn'd be the wretch whose earth-born grov'lling soul
Would in his ledger-hopes his Friends enroll.
Tho' I, a lowly, nameless, rustic Bard,
Who ne'er must hope your goodness to reward,
Yet man to man, Sir, let us fairly meet,
And like masonic Level, equal greet.
How poor the balance! ev'n what Monarch's plan,
Between two noble creatures such as Man.
That to your Friendship I am strongly tied
I still shall own it, Sir, with grateful pride,
When haply roaring seas between us tumble wide.

Or if among so many cent'ries waste,
Thro' the long vista of dark ages past,
Some much-lov'd honor'd name a radiance cast,
Perhaps some Patriot of distinguish'd worth,
I'll match him if My Lord will please step forth.
Or Gentleman and Citizen combine,
And I shall shew his peer in Ballantine:
Tho' honest men were parcell'd out for sale,
He might be shown a sample for the hale

The simple Bard, rough at the rustic plough,
Learning his tuneful trade from ev'ry bough
(The chanting linnet, or the mellow thrush,
Hailing the setting sun, sweet, in the green thorn bush;
The soaring lark, the perching red-breast shrill,
Or deep-ton'd plovers grey, wild whistling o'er the hill):
Shall he - nurst in the peasant's lowly shed,
To hardy independence bravely bred,
By early poverty to hardship steel'd,
And train'd to arms in stern misfortune's field -
Shall he be guilty of their hireling crimes,
The servile, mercenary Swiss of rhymes?
Or labour hard the panegyric close,
With all the venal soul of dedicating prose?
No! though his artless strains he rudely sings,
And throws his hand uncouthly o'er the strings,
He glows with all the spirit of the bard,
Fame, honest fame, his great, his dear reward.
Still, if some patron's gen'rous care he trace,
Skill'd in the secret to bestow with grace;
When Ballantine befriends his humble name,
And hands the rustic stranger up to fame,
With heartfelt throes his grateful bosom swells:
The godlike bliss, to give, alone excels.

'Twas when the stacks get on their winter hap,
And thack and rape secure the toil-won crap;
Potatoe-bings are snugged up frae skaith
O' coming winter's biting, frosty breath;
The bees rejoicing o'er their summer toils -
Unnumber'd buds' an flowers' delicious spoils,
Seal'd up with frugal care in massive waxen piles -
Are doom'd by man, that tyrant o'er the weak,
The death o' devils smoor'd wi' brimstone reek:
The thundering guns are heard on ev'ry side,
The wounded coveys, reeling, scatter wide;
The feather'd field-mates, bound by Nature's tie,
Sires, mothers, children, in one carnage lie:
(What warm, poetic heart but inly bleeds,
And execrates man's savage, ruthless deeds!)
Nae mair the flower in field or meadow springs;
Nae mair the grove with airy concert rings,
Except perhaps the robin's whistling glee,
Proud o' the height o' some bit half-lang tree;
The hoary morns precede the sunny days;
Mild, calm, serene, widespreads the noontide blaze,
While thick the gossamour waves wanton in the rays.

'Twas in that season, when a simple Bard,
Unknown and poor - simplicity's reward! -
Ae night, within the ancient brugh of Ayr,
By whim inspir'd, or haply prest wi' care,
He left his bed, and took his wayward route,
And down by Simpson's wheel'd the left about
(Whether impell'd by all-directing Fate,
To witness what I after shall narrate;
Or whether, rapt in meditation high,
He wander'd forth, he knew not where nor why):
The drowsy Dungeon-Clock had number'd two,
And Wallace Tower had sworn the fact was true;
The tide-swoln Firth, with sullen-sounding roar,
Through the still night dash'd hoarse along the shore;
All else was hush'd as Nature's closed e'e;
The silent moon shone high o'er tower and tree;
The chilly frost, beneath the silver beam,
Crept, gently-crusting, o'er the glittering stream.

When, lo! on either hand the list'ning Bard,
The clanging sugh of whistling wings is heard;
Two dusky forms dart thro' the midnight air,
Swift as the gos drives on the wheeling hare;
Ane on th' Auld brig his airy shape uprears,
The ither flutters o'er the rising piers:
Our warlock rhymer instantly descried
The Sprites that owre the Brigs of Ayr preside.
(That bards are second-sighted in nae joke,
And ken the lingo of the sp'ritual folk;
Fays, spunkies, kelpies, a', they can explain them,

And ev'n the vera deils they brawly ken them,)
Auld Brig appear'd of ancient Pictish race,
The vera wrinkles Gothic in his face;
He seem'd as he wi' Time had warstl'd lang,
Yet, teughly doure, he bade an unco bang.
New Brig was buskit in a braw new coat,
That he, at Lon'on, frae ane Adams got;
In's hand five taper staves as smooth's a bead,
Wi' virls an' whirlygigums at the head.
The Goth was stalking round with anxious search,
Spying the time-worn flaws in ev'ry arch.
It chanc'd his new-come neebor took his e'e,
And e'en a vex'd and angry heart had he!
Wi' thieveless sneer to see his modish mien,
He, down the water, gies him this guid-een: -

Auld Brig
'I doubt na, frien', ye'll think ye're nae sheep-shank,
Ance ye were streekit owre frae bank to bank!
But gin ye be a brig as auld as me -
Tho' faith, that date, I doubt, ye'll never see -
There'll be, if that day come, I'll wad a boddle,
Some fewer whigmeleeries in your noddle.'

New Brig
'Auld Vandal! ye but show your little mense,
Just much about it wi' your scanty sense:
Will your poor, narrow foot-path of a street,
Where twa wheel-barrows tremble when they meet,
Your ruin'd, formless bulk o' stane an' lime,
Compare wi' bonie brigs o' modern time?
There's men of taste would tak the Ducat stream,
Tho' they would cast the vera sark and swim,
E'er they would grate their feelings wi' the view
O' sic an ugly, Gothic hulk as you.'

Auld Brig
'Conceited gowk! puff'd up wi' windy pride!
This monie a year I've stood the flood and tide;
And tho' wi' crazy eild I'm sair forfairn,
I'll be a brig when ye're a shapeless cairn!
As yet ye little ken about the matter,
But twa-three winters will inform ye better.
When heavy, dark, continued, a'-day rains
Wi' deepening deluges o'erflow the plains;
When from the hills where springs the brawling Coil,
Or stately Lugar's mossy fountains boil,
Or where the Greenock winds an' spotting thowes,
In monie a torrent down the snaw-broo rowes;
While crushing ice, borne on the roaring speat,
Sweeps dams, an' mills, an' brigs, a' to the gate;
And from Glenbuck down to the Ratton-Key
Auld Ayr is just one lengthen'd, tumbling sea -
Then down ye'll hurl (deil nor ye never rise!),
And dash the gumlie jaups up to the pouring skies!
A lesson sadly teaching, to your cost,
That Architecture's noble art is lost!'

New Brig
'Fine architecture, trowth, I needs must say't o't,
The Lord be thankit that we've tint the gate o't!
Gaunt, ghastly, ghaist-alluring edifices,
Hanging with threat'ning jut, like precipices;
O'er-arching, mouldy, gloom-inspiring coves,
Supporting roofs fantastic - stony groves;
Windows and doors in nameless sculptures drest,
With order, symmetry, or taste unblest;
Forms like some bedlam statuary's dream,
The craz'd creations of misguided whim;
Forms might be worshipp'd on the bended knee,
And still the second dread Command be free:
Their likeness is not found on earth, in air, or sea!
Mansions that would disgrace the building taste
Of any mason reptile, bird or beast,
Fit only for a doited monkish race,
Or frosty maids forsworn the dear embrace,
Or cuifs of later times, wha held the notion,
That sullen gloom was sterling true devotion:
Fancies that our guid brugh denies protection,
And soon may they expire, unblest with resurrection!'

Auld Brig
'O ye, my dear-remember'd, ancient yealings,
Were ye but here to share my wounded feelings!
Ye worthy proveses, an' monie a bailie,
Wha in the paths o' righteousness did toil ay;
Ye dainty deacons, an' ye douce conveeners,
To whom our moderns are but causey-cleaners;
Ye godly councils, wha hae blest this town;
Ye godly brethren o' the sacred gown,
Wha meekly gie your hurdies to the smiters;
And (what would now be strange), ye godly Writers;
A' ye douce folk I've borne aboon the broo,
Were ye but here, what would ye say or do!
How would your spirits groan in deep vexation
To see each melancholy alteration;
And, agonising, curse the time and place
When ye begat the base degen'rate race!
Nae langer rev'rend men, their country's glory,
In plain braid Scots hold forth a plain, braid story;
Nae langer thrifty citizens, an' douce,
Meet owre a pint or in the council-house:
But staumrel, corky-headed, graceless gentry;
The herryment and ruin of the country;
Men three-parts made by tailors and by barbers,
Wha waste your weel-hain'd gear on damn'd New
Brigs and harbours!'

New Brig
'Now haud you there! for faith ye've said enough,
And muckle mair than ye can mak to through.
As for your priesthood, I shall say but little,
Corbies and clergy are a shot right kittle:
But, under favour o' your langer beard,
Abuse o' magistrates might weel be spar'd;
To liken them to your auld-warld squad,
I must needs say, comparisons are odd.
In Ayr, wag-wits nae mair can hae a handle
To mouth 'a Citizen,' a term o' scandal;
Nae mair the council waddles down the street,
In all the pomp of ignorant conceit;
Men wha grew wise priggin owre hops an' raisins,
Or gather'd lib'ral views in bonds and seisins;
If haply Knowledge, on a random tramp,
Had shor'd them with a glimmer of his lamp,
And would to common-sense for once betray'd them,
Plain, dull stupidity stept kindly in to aid them.'
(Note: - 'haggling over hops and raisins' should translate i
Scotland is the old spelling of seize and is still used legally in
of such.)

What farther clish-ma-claver might been said,
What bloody wars, if Sprites had blood to shed,
No man can tell; but, all before their sight,
A fairy train appear'd in order bright:
Adown the glittering stream they featly danc'd;
Bright to the moon their various dresses glanc'd;
They footed o'er the wat'ry glass so neat,
The infant ice scarce bent beneath their feet;
While arts of minstrelsy among them rung,
And soul-ennobling Bards heroic ditties sung.

O, had M'Lauchlan, thairm-inspiring sage,
Been there to hear this heavenly band engage,
When thro' his dear strathspeys they bore with
Highland rage;
Or when they struck old Scotia's melting airs,
The lover's raptured joys or bleeding cares;
How would his Highland lug been nobler fir'd,
And ev'n his matchless hand with finer touch inspir'd!
No guess could tell what instrument appear'd,
But all the soul of Music's self was heard;
Harmonious concert rung in every part,
While simple melody pour'd moving on the heart.

The Genius of the Stream in front appears,
A venerable chief advanc'd in years;
His hoary head with water-lilies crown'd,
His manly leg with garter-tangle bound.
Next came the loveliest pair in all the ring,
Sweet Female Beauty hand in hand with Spring;
Then crown'd with flow'ry hay, came Rural Joy,
And Summer, with his fervid-beaming eye:
All-cheering Plenty, with her flowing horn,
Led yellow Autumn wreath'd with nodding corn;
Then Winter's time-bleach'd locks did hoary show,
By Hospitality, with cloudless brow.
Next follow'd Courage, with his martial stride,
From where the Feal wild-woody coverts hide;
Benevolence, with mild, benignant air,
A female form, came from the towers of Stair;
Learning and Worth in equal measures trode
From simple Catrine, their long-lov'd abode;
Last, white-rob'd Peace, crown'd with a hazel wreath,
To rustic Agriculture did bequeath
The broken, iron instruments of death:
At sight of whom our Sprites forgat their kindling wrath.

 



The Bridges Of Ayr

Sir, think not with a mercenary view
Some servile Sycophant approaches you.
To you my Muse would sing these simple lays,
To you my heart its grateful homage pays,
I feel the weight of all your kindness past,
But thank you not as wishing it to last;
Scorned be the wretch whose earth-born grovelling soul
Would in his ledger-hopes his Friends enroll.
Though I, a lowly, nameless, rustic Bard,
Who never must hope your goodness to reward,
Yet man to man, Sir, let us fairly meet,
And like masonic Level, equal greet.
How poor the balance! even what Monarch's plan,
Between two noble creatures such as Man.
That to your Friendship I am strongly tied
I still shall own it, Sir, with grateful pride,
When haply roaring seas between us tumble wide.

Or if among so many centuries waste,
Through the long vista of dark ages past,
Some much-loved honored name a radiance cast,
Perhaps some Patriot of distinguish'd worth,
I will match him if My Lord will please step forth.
Or Gentleman and Citizen combine,
And I shall show his peer in Ballantine:
Though honest men were parcelled out for sale,
He might be shown a sample for the whole.

The simple Bard, rough at the rustic plough,
Learning his tuneful trade from every bough
(The chanting linnet, or the mellow thrush,
Hailing the setting sun, sweet, in the green thorn bush;
The soaring lark, the perching red-breast shrill,
Or deep-toned plovers grey, wild whistling over the hill):
Shall he - nursed in the peasant's lowly shed,
To hardy independence bravely bred,
By early poverty to hardship steeled,
And trained to arms in stern misfortune's field -
Shall he be guilty of their hireling crimes,
The servile, mercenary Swiss of rhymes?
Or labour hard the panegyric close,
With all the venal soul of dedicating prose?
No! though his artless strains he rudely sings,
And throws his hand uncouthly over the strings,
He glows with all the spirit of the bard,
Fame, honest fame, his great, his dear reward.
Still, if some patron's generous care he trace,
Skilled in the secret to bestow with grace;
When Ballantine befriends his humble name,
And hands the rustic stranger up to fame,
With heartfelt throes his grateful bosom swells:
The godlike bliss, to give, alone excels.

It was when the stacks get on their winter wrap,
And thatch and rope secure the toil-won crop;
Potato heaps are snugged up from damage
Of coming winter's biting, frosty breath;
The bees rejoicing over their summer toils -
Unnumbered buds' an flowers' delicious spoils,
Sealed up with frugal care in massive waxen piles -
Are doomed by man, that tyrant over the weak,
The death of devils smothered with brimstone smoke:
The thundering guns are heard on every side,
The wounded coveys, reeling, scatter wide;
The feathered field-mates, bound by Nature's tie,
Sires, mothers, children, in one carnage lie:
(What warm, poetic heart but inside bleeds,
And execrates man's savage, ruthless deeds!)
No more the flower in field or meadow springs;
No more the grove with airy concert rings,
Except perhaps the robin's whistling glee,
Proud of the height of some small half-grown tree;
The hoary mornings proceed the sunny days;
Mild, calm, serene, wide-spreads the noontide blaze,
While thick the gossamer waves wanton in the rays.

It was in that season, when a simple Bard,
Unknown and poor - simplicity's reward! -
One night, within the ancient burgh of Ayr,
By whim inspired, or haply pressed with care,
He left his bed, and took his wayward route,
And down by Simpson's wheeled the left about
(Whether impelled by all-directing Fate,
To witness what I after shall narrate;
Or whether, rapt in meditation high,
He wandered forth, he knew not where nor why):
The drowsy Dungeon-Clock had numbered two,
And Wallace Tower had sworn the fact was true;
The tide-swollen Firth, with sullen-sounding roar,
Through the still night dashed hoarse along the shore;
All else was hushed as Nature's closed eye;
The silent moon shone high over tower and tree;
The chilly frost, beneath the silver beam,
Crept, gently-crusting, over the glittering stream.

When, lo! on either hand the listening Bard,
The clanging swish of whistling wings is heard;
Two dusky forms dart through the midnight air,
Swift as the goshawk drives on the wheeling hare;
One on the Old bridge his airy shape rears up,
The other flutters over the rising piers:
Our wizard rhymer instantly descried
The Sprites that over the Brigs of Ayr preside.
(That bards are second-sighted in no joke,
And know the language of the spiritual folk;
Fairies, jack-o-lanthorns, water demons, all, they can
explain them.
And even the very devils they know them well,)
Old Bridge appeared of ancient Pictish race,
The very wrinkles Gothic in his face;
He seemed as he with Time had wrestled long,
Yet, toughly stubborn, he bade an uncommon bang.
New Bridge was dressed in a lovely new coat,
That he, at London, from one Adams got;
In his hand five taper staves as smooth as a bead,
With rings and flourishes at the head.
The Goth was stalking round with anxious search,
Spying the time-worn flaws in every arch.
It chanced his new-come neighbour took his eye,
And even a vexed and angry heart had he!
With forbidding sneer to see his modish mien,
He, down the water, gives him this good-evening: -

Old Bridge
'I doubt not, friend, you will think you are no sheep's leg,
Once you were stretched over from bank to bank!
But if you be a bridge as old as me -
Though faith, that date, I doubt, you will never see -
There will be, if that day come, I will wager a farthing,
Some fewer crotchets in your head.'

New Bridge
'Old Vandal! you but show your little tact,
Just much about it with your scanty sense:
Will your poor, narrow foot-path of a street,
Where two wheel-barrows tremble when they meet,
Your ruined, formless bulk of stone and lime,
Compare with lovely bridges of modern time?
There are men of taste would take the Ducat stream,
Though they would cast the very shirt and swim,
Ever they would grate their feelings with the view
Of such an ugly, Gothic hulk as you.'

Old Bridge
'Conceited blockhead! puffed up with windy pride!
This many a year I have stood the flood and tide;
And though with crazy old age I am sore worn out,
I will be a bridge when you are a shapeless pile of stones!
As yet yuo little know about the matter,
But two or three winters will inform you better.
When heavy, dark, continued, all-day rains
With deepening deluges overflow the plains;
When from the hills where springs the brawling Coil,
Or stately Lugar's mossy fountains boil,
Or where the Greenock winds and spotting thaws,
In many a torrent down the snow-brew rolls;
While crushing ice, borne on the roaring flood,
Sweeps dams, and mills, and bridges, all to the road seaward;
And from Glenbuck down to the Ratton-Key
Auld Ayr is just one lengthened, tumbling sea -
Then down you will crush (devil nor you never rise!),
And dash the muddy splashes up to the pouring skies!
A lesson sadly teaching, to your cost,
That Architecture's noble art is lost!'

New Bridge
'Fine architecture, truth, I needs must say it of it,
The Lord be thanked that we have lost the trick of it!
Gaunt, ghastly, ghost-alluring edifices,
Hanging with threatening jut, like precipices;
Over-arching, mouldy, gloom-inspiring coves,
Supporting roofs fantastic - stony groves;
Windows and doors in nameless sculptures dressed,
With order, symmetry, or taste unblessed;
Forms like some bedlam statuary's dream,
The crazed creations of misguided whim;
Forms might be worshipped on the bended knee,
And still the second dread Command be free:
Their likeness is not found on earth, in air, or sea!
Mansions that would disgrace the building taste
Of any mason reptile, bird or beast,
Fit only for a muddled monkish race,
Or frosty maids forsworn the dear embrace,
Or dolts of later times, who held the notion,
That sullen gloom was sterling true devotion:
Fancies that our good burgh denies protection,
And soon may they expire, unblessed with resurrection!'

Old Bridge
'O you, my dear-remembered, ancient coevals,
Were you but here to share my wounded feelings!
You worthy provosts, and many a bailie (alderman),
Who in the paths of righteousness did toil always;
You dainty deacons, and you sedate conveeners,
To whom our moderns are but causeway-cleaners;
You godly councils, who have blessed this town;
You godly brethren of the sacred gown,
Who meekly give your buttocks to the smiters;
And (what would now be strange), you godly Lawyers;
All you sedate folk I have borne across the water,
Were you but here, what would you say or do!
How would your spirits groan in deep vexation
To see each melancholy alteration;
And, agonising, curse the time and place
When you begot the base degenerate race!
No longer reverend men, their country's glory,
In plain broad Scots hold forth a plain, broad story;
No longer thrifty citizens, and sedate,
Meet over a pint or in the council-house:
But half-witted, corky-headed, graceless gentry;
The spoliation and ruin of the country;
Men three-parts made by tailors and by barbers,
Who waste your well-saved wealth on damned New
Bridges and harbours!'

New Bridge
'Now hold you there! for faith you have said enough,
And much more than you can make good.
As for your priesthood, I shall say but little,
Ravens and clergy are a sort right ticklish:
But, under favour of your longer beard,
Abuse of magistrates might well be spared;
To liken them to your old-world squad,
I must needs say, comparisons are odd.
In Ayr, wag-wits no more can have a handle
To mouth 'a Citizen,' a term of scandal;
No more the council waddles down the street,
In all the pomp of ignorant conceit;
Men who grew wise haggling over hops and raisins,
Or gathered liberal views in bonds and seisins;
If by chance Knowledge, on a random tramp,
Had menaced them with a glimmer of his lamp,
And would to common-sense for once betrayed them,
Plain, dull stupidity stepped kindly in to aid them.'
to haggling over beer and wine, and the word 'seisins' in
the sense to put in possession of feudal property, or evidence


What farther nonsense might been said,
What bloody wars, if Sprites had blood to shed,
No man can tell; but, all before their sight,
A fairy train appeared in order bright:
Down the glittering stream they featly danced;
Bright to the moon their various dresses glanced;
They footed over the watery glass so neat,
The infant ice scarce bent beneath their feet;
While arts of minstrelsy among them rung,
And soul-ennobling Bards heroic ditties sung.

O, had M'Lauchlan, (cat)gut-inspiring sage,
Been there to hear this heavenly band engage,
When through his dear strathspeys they bore with
Highland rage;
Or when they struck old Scotia's melting airs,
The lover's rapturous joys or bleeding cares;
How would his Highland lug been nobler fired,
And even his matchless hand with finer touch inspired!
No guess could tell what instrument appeared,
But all the soul of Music's self was heard;
Harmonious concert rung in every part,
While simple melody poured moving on the heart.

The Genius of the Stream in front appears,
A venerable chief advanced in years;
His hoary head with water-lilies crowned,
His manly leg with garter-tangle bound.
Next came the loveliest pair in all the ring,
Sweet Female Beauty hand in hand with Spring;
Then crowned with flowery hay, came Rural Joy,
And Summer, with his fervid-beaming eye:
All-cheering Plenty, with her flowing horn,
Led yellow Autumn wreathed with nodding corn;
Then Winter's time-bleached locks did hoary show,
By Hospitality, with cloudless brow (forehead).
Next followed Courage, with his martial stride,
From where the Feal wild-woody coverts hide;
Benevolence, with mild, benignant air,
A female form, came from the towers of Stair;
Learning and Worth in equal measures trod
From simple Catrine, their long-loved abode;
Last, white-robed Peace, crowned with a hazel wreath,
To rustic Agriculture did bequeath
The broken, iron instruments of death:
At sight of whom our Sprites forgot their kindling wrath.

 

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