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To Robert Graham, Esq., Of Fintry
Requesting A Favour

 

Burns Original

Standard English Translation

 

When Nature her great master-piece design'd
And fram'd her last, best work, the human mind,
Her eye intent on all the wondrous plan,
She form'd of various stuff the various Man.
The useful many first, she calls them forth --
Plain plodding Industry and sober Worth:
Thence peasants, farmers, native sons of earth,
And merchandise' whole genus take their birth;
Each prudent cit a warm existence finds,
And all mechanics' many-apron'd kinds.
Some other rarer sorts are wanted yet --
The lead and buoy are needful to the net:
The caput mortuum of gross desires
Makes a material for mere knights and squires;
The martial phosphorus is taught to flow;
She kneads the lumpish philosophic dough,
Then marks th' unyielding mass with grave designs --
Law, physic, politics, and deep divines;
Last, she sublimes th' Aurora of the poles,
The flashing elements of female souls.

The order'd system fair before her stood;
Nature, well pleas'd, pronounc'd it very good;
Yet ere she gave creating labour o'er,
Half-jest, she tried one curious labour more.
Some spumy, fiery, ignis fatuus matter,
Such as the slightest breath of air might scatter;
With arch-alacrity and conscious glee
(Nature may have her whim as well as we:
Her Hogarth-art, perhaps she meant to show it),
She forms the thing, and christens it - a Poet:
Creature, tho' oft the prey of care and sorrow,
When blest to-day, unmindful of to-morrow;
A being form'd t' amuse his graver friends;
Admir'd and prais'd - and there the wages ends;
A mortal quite unfit for Fortune's strife,
Yet oft the sport of all the ills of life;
Prone to enjoy each pleasure riches give,
Yet haply wanting wherewithal to live;
Longing to wipe each tear, to heal each groan,
Yet frequent all unheeded in his own.

But honest Nature is not quite a Turk:
She laugh'd at first, then felt for her poor work.
Viewing the propless climber of mankind,
She cast about a standard tree to find;
In pity for his helpless woodbine state,
She clasp'd his tendrils round the truly great:
A title, and the only one I claim,
To lay strong hold for help on bounteous Graham.

Pity the hapless Muses' tuneful train!
Weak, timid landsmen on life's stormy main,
Their hearts no selfish, stern, absorbent stuff,
That never gives - tho' humbly takes - enough:
The little Fate allows, they share as soon,
Unlike sage, proverb'd Wisdom's hard-wrung boon.
The world were blest did bliss on them depend --
Ah, that ' the friendly e'er should want a friend!'
Let Prudence number o'er each sturdy son
Who life and wisdom at one race begun,
Who feel by reason, and who give by rule
(Instinct's a brute, and Sentiment a fool!)
Who make poor 'will do' wait upon 'I should'--
We own they're prudent, but who owns they're good?
Ye wise ones, hence! ye hurt the social eye,
God's image rudely etch'd on base alloy!
But come ye who the godlike pleasure know,
Heaven's attribute distinguish'd - to bestow!
Whose arms of love would grasp all human race:
Come thou who giv'st with all a courtier's grace --
Friend of my life, true patron of my rhymes,
Prop of my dearest hopes for future times!

Why shrinks my soul, half blushing, half afraid,
Backward, abash'd to ask thy friendly aid?
I know my need, I know thy giving hand,
I tax thy friendship at thy kind command.
But there are such who court the tuneful Nine
(Heavens! should the branded character be Mine!),
Whose verse in manhood's pride sublimely flown,
Yet vilest reptiles in their begging prose;
Mark how their lofty independent spirit
Soars on the spurning wing of injur'd merit!
Seek you the proofs in private life to find?
Pity the best of words should be but wind!
So to Heaven's gates the lark's shrill song ascends,
But grovelling on the earth the carol ends.
In all the clam'rous cry of starving want,
They dun Benevolence with shameless front;
Oblige them, patronise their tinsel lays --
They persecute you all your future days!

Ere my poor soul such deep damnation stain,
My horny fist assume the plough again!
The pie-bald jacket let me patch once more!
On eighteenpence a week I've liv'd before.
Tho' thanks to Heaven, I dare even that last shift,
I trust, meantime, my boon is in thy gift:
That, plac'd by thee upon the wish'd-for height,
With man and nature fairer in her sight,
My Muse may imp her wing for some sublimer flight.

 

 

When Nature her great master-piece designed
And framed her last, best work, the human mind,
Her eye intent on all the wondrous plan,
She formed of various stuff the various Man.
The useful many first, she calls them forth --
Plain plodding Industry and sober Worth:
Thence peasants, farmers, native sons of earth,
And merchandise' whole genus take their birth;
Each prudent citizen a warm existence finds,
And all mechanics' many-aproned kinds.
Some other rarer sorts are wanted yet -
The lead and buoy are needful to the net:
The caput mortuum of gross desires
Makes a material for mere knights and squires;
The martial phosphorus is taught to flow;
She kneads the lumpish philosophic dough,
Then marks the unyielding mass with grave designs --
Law, physic, politics, and deep divines;
Last, she sublimes the Aurora of the poles,
The flashing elements of female souls.

The ordered system fair before her stood;
Nature, well pleased, pronounced it very good;
Yet before she gave creating labour over,
Half-jest, she tried one curious labour more.
Some foamy, fiery, ignis fatuus matter,
Such as the slightest breath of air might scatter;
With arch-alacrity and conscious glee
(Nature may have her whim as well as we:
Her Hogarth-art, perhaps she meant to show it),
She forms the thing, and christens it - a Poet:
Creature, though often the prey of care and sorrow,
When blest to-day, unmindful of to-morrow;
A being formed to amuse his graver friends;
Admired and praised - and there the wages ends;
A mortal quite unfit for Fortune's strife,
Yet often the sport of all the ills of life;
Prone to enjoy each pleasure riches give,
Yet haply (by chance) wanting wherewithal to live;
Longing to wipe each tear, to heal each groan,
Yet frequent all unheeded in his own.

But honest Nature is not quite a Turk (Savage Person):
She laughed at first, then felt for her poor work.
Viewing the propless climber of mankind,
She cast about a standard tree to find;
In pity for his helpless woodbine state,
She clasped his tendrils round the truly great:
A title, and the only one I claim,
To lay strong hold for help on bounteous Graham.

Pity the hapless Muses' tuneful train!
Weak, timid landsmen on life's stormy main,
Their hearts no selfish, stern, absorbent stuff,
That never gives - though humbly takes - enough:
The little Fate allows, they share as soon,
Unlike sage, proverbed Wisdom's hard-wrung boon.
The world were blest did bliss on them depend -
Ah, that ' the friendly ever should want a friend!'
Let Prudence number over each sturdy son
Who life and wisdom at one race begun,
Who feel by reason, and who give by rule
(Instinct is a brute, and Sentiment a fool!)
Who make poor 'will do' wait upon 'I should'-
We own they are prudent, but who owns they are good?
You wise ones, hence! you hurt the social eye,
God's image rudely etched on base alloy!
But come you who the godlike pleasure know,
Heaven's attribute distinguished - to bestow!
Whose arms of love would grasp all human race:
Come you who gives with all a courtier's grace -
Friend of my life, true patron of my rhymes,
Prop of my dearest hopes for future times!

Why shrinks my soul, half blushing, half afraid,
Backward, abashed to ask your friendly aid?
I know my need, I know your giving hand,
I tax your friendship at your kind command.
But there are such who court the tuneful Nine
(Heavens! should the branded character be Mine!),
Whose verse in manhood's pride sublimely flown,
Yet vilest reptiles in their begging prose;
Mark how their lofty independent spirit
Soars on the spurning wing of injured merit!
Seek you the proofs in private life to find?
Pity the best of words should be but wind!
So to Heaven's gates the lark's shrill song ascends,
But groveling on the earth the carol ends.
In all the clamorous cry of starving want,
They dun Benevolence with shameless front;
Oblige them, patronize their tinsel lays -
They persecute you all your future days!

Before my poor soul such deep damnation stain,
My horny fist assume the plough again!
The pie-bald jacket let me patch once more!
On eighteen pence a week I have lived before.
Though thanks to Heaven, I dare even that last shift,
I trust, meantime, my boon is in your gift:
That, placed by you upon the wished-for height,
With man and nature fairer in her sight,
My Muse may imp her wing for some sublimer flight.

 

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