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The Twa Dogs.
A Tale.
Burns often used animals to make his point in the foibles of human nature. Note the poems, 'To a Mouse' and 'To a Louse'. Here in this poem he uses two dogs, one a laird's pet named Caesar, the other a working collie named Luath. Though they were from opposite sides of the tracks, to use a modern idiom, they were good friends. In this poem he is using them to discuss the conditions under which their respective masters must live, and how their actions affect the people that they associate with, and those that they have influence over. King Coil referred to in the poem, is Coila or Kyle, a district of Ayrshire the county where Robert Burns lived.

 

 

Burns Original

Standard English Translation

The Twa Dogs.
A Tale.

'Twas in that place o' Scotland's isle,
That bears the name o' auld King Coil,
Upon a bonnie day in June,
When wearin' thro' the afternoon,
Twa dogs, that were na thrang at hame,
Forgather'd ance upon a time.

The first I'll name, they ca'd him Caesar,
Was keepit for 'his Honor's' pleasure:
His hair, his size, his mouth, his lugs,
Shew'd he was nane o' Scotland's dogs;
But whalpit some place far abroad,
Whare sailors gang to fish for cod.

His locked, letter'd, braw brass collar
Shew'd him the gentleman an' scholar;
But tho' he was o' high degree,
The fient a pride, nae pride had he;
But wad hae spent an hour caressin,
Ev'n wi' a tinkler-gipsy's messin;
At kirk or market, mill or smiddie,
Nae tawted tyke, tho' e'er sae dudie,
But he wad stan't, as glad to see him,
An' stroan't on stanes an' hillocks wi' him.

The tither was a ploughman's collie,
A rhyming, ranting, raving billie,
Wha for his friend an' comrade had him,
And in his freaks had Luath ca'd him,
After some dog in Highland sang,
Was made lang syne - Lord knows how lang.
He was a gash an' faithfu' tyke,
As ever lap a sheugh or dyke.
His honest, sonsie, baws'nt face
Ay gat him friends in ilka place;
His breast was white, his tousie back
Weel clad wi' coat o' glossy black;
His gawsie tail, wi' upward curl,
Hung owre his hurdies wi' a swirl.

Nae doubt but they were fain o' ither,
And unco pack an' thick thegither,
Wi' social nose whyles snuff'd an' snowkit;
Whyles mice an' moudieworts they howkit;
Whyles scour'd awa' in lang excursion,
An' worry'd ither in diversion;
Till tir'd at last wi' monie a farce,
They sat them down upon their arse,
An' there began a lang digression
About the 'lords o' the creation'.

Caesar.
I've aften wonder'd, honest Luath,
What sort o' life poor dogs like you have;
An' when the gentry's life I saw,
What way poor bodies liv'd ava.

Our laird gets in his racked rents,
His coals, his kain, an' a' his stents:
He rises when he likes himsel;
His flunkies answer at the bell;
He ca's his coach; he ca's his horse;
He draws a bonie silken purse,
As lang's my tail, whare, thro' the steeks,
The yellow letter'd Geordie keeks.

Frae morn to e'en it's nought but toiling,
At baking, roasting, frying, boiling;
An' tho' the gentry first are stechin,
Yet ev'n the ha' folk fill their pechan
Wi' sauce, ragouts, an' sic like trashtrie,
That's little short o' downright wastrie:
Our whipper-in, wee, blastit wonner,
Poor, worthless elf, it eats a dinner,
Better than onie tenant-man
His Honor has in a' the lan';
An' what poor cot-folk pit their painch in,
I own it's past my comprehension.

Luath.
Trowth, Caesar, whyles they're fash't enough:
A cotter howkin in a sheugh,
Wi' dirty stanes biggin a dyke,
Baring a quarry, an' sic like;
Himself, a wife, he thus sustains,
A smytrie o' wee duddie weans,
An' nought but his han' darg to keep
Them right an' tight in thack an' rape.

An' when they meet wi' sair disasters,
Like loss o' health or want o' masters,
Ye maist wad think, a wee touch langer,
An' they maun starve o' cauld and hunger:
But how it comes, I never kend yet,
They're maistly wonderfu' contented;
An' buirdly chiels, an' clever hizzies,
Are bred in sic a way as this is.

Caesar.
But then to see how ye're negleckit,
How huff'd an' cuff'd, an' disrespecket!
Lord man, our gentry care as little
For delvers, ditchers, an' sic cattle;
They gang as saucy by poor folk,
As I wad by a stinking brock.

I've notic'd, on our laird's court-day,
(An' monie a time my heart's been wae),
Poor tenant bodies, scant o' cash,
How they maun thole a factor's snash:
He'll stamp an' threaten, curse an' swear
He'll apprehend them, poind their gear,
While they maun staun', wi' aspect humble,
An' hear it a', an' fear an' tremble!
I see how folk live that hae riches;
But surely poor-folk maun be wretches!

Luath.
They're nae sae wretched 's ane wad think:
Tho' constantly on poortith's brink,
They're sae accustom'd wi' the sight,
The view o't gies them little fright.

Then chance an' fortune are sae guided,
They're ay in less or mair provided;
An' tho' fatigu'd wi' close employment,
A blink o' rest's a sweet enjoyment.

The dearest comfort o' their lives,
Their grushie weans an' faithfu' wives;
The prattling things are just their pride,
That sweetens a' their fire-side.

An' whyles twalpennie worth o' nappy
Can mak the bodies unco happy:
They lay aside their private cares,
To mind the Kirk and State affairs;
They'll talk o' patronage an' priests,
Wi' kindling fury i' their breasts,
Or tell what new taxation's comin,
An' ferlie at the folk in London.

As bleak-fac'd Hallowmass returns,
They get the jovial, ranting kirns,
When rural life, of every station,
Unite in common recreation;
Love blinks, Wit slaps, an' social Mirth
Forgets there's Care upo' the earth.

That merry day the year begins,
They bar the door on frosty win's;
The nappy reeks wi' mantling ream,
An' sheds a heart-inspiring steam;
The luntin pipe, an' sneeshin mill,
Are handed round wi' right guid will;
The cantie auld folks crackin crouse,
The young anes ranting thro' the house-
My heart has been sae fain to see them,
That I for joy hae barkit wi' them.

Still it's owre true that ye hae said
Sic game is now owre aften play'd;
There's monie a creditable stock
O' decent, honest, fawsont folk,
Are riven out baith root and branch,
Some rascal's pridefu' greed to quench,
Wha thinks to knit himsel the faster
In favor wi' some gentle master,
Wha, aiblins thrang a parliamentin',
For Britain's guid his saul indentin'.

Caesar.
Haith, lad, ye little ken about it:
For Britain's guid! guid faith! I doubt it.
Say rather, gaun as Premiers lead him:
An' saying aye or no 's they bid him:
At operas an' plays parading,
Mortgaging, gambling, masquerading:
Or maybe, in a frolic daft,
To Hague or Calais taks a waft,
To make a tour an' tak a whirl,
To learn bon ton, an' see the worl'.

There at Vienna or Versailles,
He rives his father's auld entails;
Or by Madrid he taks the rout,
To thrum guitars an' fecht wi' nowt;
Or down the Italian vista startles,
Whore-hunting amang groves o' myrtles
Then bowses drumlie German-water,
To mak himsel look fair an' fatter,
An' purge the bitter ga's an' cankers
O' curst Venetian bores an' chancres.
For Britain's guid! For her destruction!
Wi' dissipation, feud an' faction.

Luath.
Hech man! dear sirs! is that the gate
They waste sae monie a braw estate!
Are we sae foughten an' harass'd
For gear ta gang that gate at last?

O would they stay aback frae courts,
An please themsels wi' countra sports,
It wad for ev'ry ane be better,
The laird, the tenant, an' the cotter!
For thae frank, rantin, ramblin billies,
Fient haet o' them's ill-hearted fellows:
Except for breakin o' their timmer,
Or speaking lightly o' their limmer,
Or shootin of a hare or moor-cock,
The never-a-bit they're ill to poor folk.

But will ye tell me, master Caeser:
Sure great folk's life's a life o' pleasure?
Nae cauld nor hunger e'er can steer them,
The vera thought o't need na fear them.

Caesar.
Lord, man, were ye but whyles whare I am,
The gentles, ye wad ne'er envy 'em!

It's true, they need na starve or sweat,
Thro' winter's cauld, or simmer's heat;
They've nae sair wark to craze their banes,
An' fill auld-age wi' grips an granes:
But human bodies are sic fools,
For a' their colleges an' schools,
That when nae real ills perplex them;
They mak enow themsels to vex them;
An' ay the less they hae to sturt them,
In like proportion, less will hurt them.

A countra fellow at the pleugh,
His acre's till'd, he's right enough,
A countra girl at her wheel,
Her dizzen's done, she's unco weel;
But gentlemen, an' ladies warst,
Wi' ev'n down want o' wark are curst:
They loiter, lounging, lank an' lazy;
Tho' deil-haet ails them, yet uneasy:
Their days insipid, dull an' tasteless;
Their nights unquiet, lang an' restless.

An' even their sports, their balls an' races,
Their galloping through public places,
There's sic parade, sic pomp an' art,
The joy can hardly reach the heart.

The men cast out in party-matches,
Then sowther a' in deep debauches;
Ae night they're mad wi' drink an' whoring,
Niest day their life is past enduring.

The ladies arm-in-arm in clusters;
As great an' gracious a' as sisters;
But hear their absent thoughts o' ither.
They're a' run deils an' jads thegither,
Whyles, owre the wee bit cup an' platie,
They sip the scandal-potion pretty;
Or lee-lang nights, wi' crabbit leuks,
Pore owre the devil's pictur'd beuks;
Stake on a chance a farmer's stackyard,
An' cheat like onie unhang'd blackguard.

There's some exceptions, man an' woman;
But this is Gentry's life in common.

By this, the sun was out o' sight,
An' darker gloamin brought the night;
The bum-clock humm'd wi' lazy drone;
The kye stood rowtin' i' the loan;
When up they gat, an' shook their lugs,
Rejoic'd they were na men, but dogs;
An' each took aff his several way,
Resolv'd to meet some ither day.

 

The Two Dogs.
A Tale.

It was in that place of Scotland's isle,
That bears the name of old King Coil,
Upon a Lovely day in June,
When wearing through the afternoon,
Two dogs, that were not busy at home,
Chance-met once upon a time.

The first I'll name, they called him Caesar,
Was kept for 'his Honor's' pleasure:
His hair, his size, his mouth, his ears,
Showed he was none of Scotland's dogs;
But bred some place far abroad,
Where sailors go to fish for cod.

His locked, lettered, lovely brass collar
Showed him the gentleman and scholar;
But although he was of high degree,
The fiend of pride, no pride had he;
But would have spent an hour caressing,
Even with a tinker-gypsy's mongrel;
At church or market, mill or smithy,
No matted cur, though ever so ragged,
But he would have stood, as glad to see him,
And pissed on stones and hillocks with him.

The other was a ploughman's collie,
A rhyming, ranting, raving rollicking young friend,
Who for his friend and comrade had him,
And in his youth had Luath named him,
After some dog in Highland song,
Was made long past - Lord knows how long.
He was a wise and faithful cur,
As ever leaped a ditch or stone fence.
His honest, pleasant, white streaked face
Always got him friends in every place;
His breast was white, his shaggy back
Well clad will coat of glossy black;
His joyous tail, with upward curl,
Hung over his buttocks with a swirl.

No doubt but they were glad of each other,
And very confidential and thick together,
With social nose sometimes sniffed and pried;
Sometimes mice and moles the dug;
Sometimes raced away in long excursion,
And worried each other in diversion;
Till tired at last with many a farce,
They sat them down upon their arse (buttocks),
And there began a long digression
About the 'lords of the creation'.

Caesar.
I have often wondered, honest Luath,
What sort of life poor dogs like you have;
And when the gentry's life I saw,
What way poor bodies lived at all.

Our laird gets in his racked rents,
His coals, his rents in kind, and all his dues:
He rises when he likes himself;
His flunkies answer at the bell;
He calls for his coach; he calls for his horse;
He draws a lovely silken purse,
As long as my tail, where, through the stitches,
The yellow (golden) lettered guinea peeps.

From morning to evening it is nothing but toiling
At baking, roasting, frying, boiling;
And though the gentry first are cramming,
Yet even the hall folk fill their stomach
With sauce, ragouts, and such like trash,
That's little short of downright waste:
Our whipper-in, small, blasted wonder,
Poor, worthless elf, it eats a dinner,
Better than any tenant-man (tenant farmer)
His Honor has in all the land;
And what poor farm-folk put their stomach in,
I own (admit) it is past my comprehension.

Luath.
Truth, Caesar, sometimes they are bothered enough:
A cottage farmer digging in a ditch,
With dirty stones building a stone wall,
Clearing a quarry, and such like;
Himself, a wife, he thus sustains,
A litter of little ragged children,
And nothing but his hand days work to keep
Them right and tight in thatch and rope.

And when they meet with sore disasters,
Like loss of health or want of masters,
You most would think, a little touch longer,
And they must starve of cold and hunger:
But how it comes, I never knew yet,
They are mostly wonderfully contented;
And stout lads, and clever young woman,
Are bred in such a way as this is.

Caesar.
But then to see how you are neglected,
How huffed and cuffed, and disrespected!
Lord man, our gentry care as little
For diggers, ditch diggers, and such cattle;
They go as saucy by poor people,
As I would pass a stinking badger.

I have noticed, on our laird's court-day,
(And many a time my heart's been sad),
Poor tenant people, short of cash,
How they must endure a factor's abuse:
He will stamp and threaten, curse and swear
He will apprehend them, seize their goods,
While they must stand, with aspect humble,
And hear it all, and fear and tremble!
I see how folk live that have riches;
But surely poor-folk must be wretches!

Luath.
They are not so wretched as one would think:
Though constantly on poverty's brink,
They are so accustomed with the sight,
The view of it gives them little fright.

Then chance and fortune are so guided,
They are always in less or more provided;
And though fatigued with close imployment,
A snatch of rest is a sweet enjoyment.

The dearest comfort of their lives,
Their growing children and faithful wives;
The chattering children are just their pride,
That sweetens all their fireside.

And sometimes twalpennie worth of ale
Can make the bodies uncommonly happy:
They lay aside their private cares,
To mind the Church and State affairs;
They will talk of patronage and priests,
With kindling fury in their breasts,
Or tell what new taxation's coming,
And wonder at the folk in London.

As bleak faced All-saints-day returns,
They get the jovial, ranting harvest-homes,
When rural life, of every station,
Unite in common recreation;
Love glances, Wit slaps, and social Mirth
Forgets there is Care upon the earth.

That merry day the year begins,
They bar the door on frosty winds;
The ale steams with mantling froth,
And sheds a heart inspiring steam;
The smoking pipe, and snuff box,
Are handed round with right good will;
The merry old folks conversing cheerfully,
The young ones romping through the house-
My heart has been so happy to see them,
That I for joy have barked with them.

Still it is very true that you have said
Such game is now too often played;
There is many a creditable stock
Of decent, honest, well-doing people,
Are split out both root and branch,
Some rascal's prideful greed to quench,
Who thinks to knit himself the faster
In favor with some gentle master,
Who, may be busy parliamenting,
For Britain's good his sole indenting.

Caesar.
In faith, lad, you little know about it:
For Britain's good! good faith! I doubt it.
Say rather, going as Premiers lead him:
And saying yes or no as they bid him:
At operas and plays parading,
Mortgaging, gambling, masquerading:
Or maybe, in a frolic daft,
To Hague or Calais takes a waft,
To make a tour and take a whirl,
To learn bon ton, and see the world.

There at Vienna or Versailles,
He splits his father's old entails;
Or by Madrid he takes the road,
To thrum guitars and fight with cattle;
Or down the Italian vista startles,
Whore hunting among groves of myrtles
Then drinks muddy German water,
To make himself look fair and fatter,
And purge the bitter venereal sores and cankers
Of cursed Venetian bores and chancres.
For Britain's good! For her destruction!
With dissipation, feud and faction.

Luath.
Heck man! dear sirs! is that the way
They waste so many a lovely estate!
Are we so ftroubled and harassed
For wealth to go that way at last?

O would they stay away from courts,
An please themselves with country sports,
It would for every one be better,
The laird, the tenant, and the cotter!
For those frank, roistering, rambling young men,
Not one of them is an ill-hearted fellow:
Except for wasting of their timber,
Or speaking lightly o' their mistress,
Or shooting of a hare or moor-cock,
The never a bit are they ill to poor folk.

But will you tell me, master Caeser:
Sure great folk's life's a life of pleasure?
No cold nor hunger ever can upset them,
The very thought of it need not trouble them.

Caesar.
Lord, man, were you but sometimes where I am,
The gentry, you would never envy them!

It is true, they need not starve or sweat,
Through winter's cold, or summer's heat;
They have no sore work to craze their bones,
And fill old age with gripes and grones:
But human people are such fools,
For all their colleges and schools,
That when no real ills perplex them;
They make enough themselves to vex them;
And always the less they have to fret them,
In like proportion, less will hurt them.

A county fellow at the plough,
His acre's tilled, he's right enough,
A county girl at her wheel (spinning),
Her dozen's done, she is uncommonly well (satisfied)
But gentlemen, and ladies are worst,
With even positive want of work are cursed:
They loiter, lounging, lank and lazy;
Though devil have it (nothing) ails them, yet une
Their days insipid, dull and tasteless;
Their nights unquiet, long and restless.

And even their sports, their balls and races,
Their galloping through public places,
There is such parade, such pomp and art,
The joy can hardly reach the heart.

The men cast out in party-matches,
Then make up all in deep debauches;
One night they are mad with drink and whoring,
Next day their life is past enduring.

The ladies arm-in-arm in clusters;
As great and gracious all as sisters;
But hear their absent thoughts of each other.
They are all run devils and old woman together,
Sometimes, over the little cup and plate,
They sip the scandal-potion pretty;
Or live long nights, with crabby looks,
Pour over the devil's pictured books;
Bet on a chance a farmer's stockyard,
And cheat like any unhanged blackguard.

There are some exceptions, man and woman;
But this is Gentry's life in common.

By this time, the sun was out of sight,
An' darker twilight brought the night;
The bum-clock (a beetle) hummed with lazy drone;
The cattle stood lowing in the lane;
When up they got, and shook their ears,
Rejoiced they were not men, but dogs;
And each took off his several way,
Resolved to meet some other day.

 

 

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