Beginners
Experts
Burns Supper
Top Features
Discussion Forum
Newsletter
Poems & Songs
The Letters
Federation
E- Membership
Schools
Contributions
Links
Search the Site
Scottish History
The Burns Shop

Translation
Index

Death and Doctor Hornbook.
A True Story.

 

Burns Original

Standard English Translation

1.
Some books are lies frae end to end,
And some great lies were never penn'd:
Ev'n ministers, they have been kend,
In holy rapture,
A rousing whid at times to vend,
And nail't wi' Scripture.
2.
But this that I am gaun to tell,
Which lately on a night befel,
Is just as true's the Deil's in hell
Or Dublin city:
That e'er he nearer comes oursel
'S a muckle pity!
3.
The clachan yill had made me canty,
I was na fou, but just had plenty:
I stacher'd whyles, but yet took tent ay
To free the ditches;
An' hillocks, stanes, an' bushes, kend ay
Frae ghaists an' witches.
4.
The rising moon began to glowr
The distant Cummock Hills out-owre:
To count her horns, wi' a' my pow'r
I set mysel;
But whether she had three or four,
I cou'd na tell.
5.
I was come round about the hill,
And todlin down on Willie's mill,
Setting my staff wi' a' my skill
To keep me sicker,
Tho' leeward whyles, against my will,
I took a bicker.
6.
I there wi' Something does forgather,
That pat me in an eerie swither;
An awfu' scythe, out-owre ae shouther,
Clear-dangling, hang;
A three-tae'd leister on the ither
Lay, large an' lang.
7.
Its stature seem'd lang Scotch ells twa;

The queerest shape that e'er I saw,
For fient a wame it had ava'
And then its shanks,
They were as thin, as sharp an' sma'
As cheeks o' branks.
8.
'Guid-een,' quo' I, 'Friend! hae ye been mawin,
When ither folk are busy sawin?'
It seem'd to mak a kind o' stan',
But naething spak.
At length, says I: 'Friend! whare ye gaun?
Will ;ye go back:'
9.
It spak right howe: 'My name is Death,
But be na' fley'd.' Quoth I: 'Guid faith,
Ye're may be come to stop my breath;
But tent me, billie:
I red ye weel, take care o' skaith,
See, there's a gully!'
10.
'Gudeman,' quo he, 'put up your whittle,
I'm no design'd to try its mettle;
But if I did, I wad be kittle
To be mislear'd:
I wad na mind it, no that spittle
Out-owre my beard.'
11.
'Weel, weel!' says I, 'a bargain be't;
Come, gie's your hand, an' say we 're gree't;
We'll ease our shanks, an' tak a seat:
Come, gie's your news:
This while ye hae been monie a gate,
At monie a house.'
12.
'Ay, ay!' quo' he, an' shook his head,
'It's e'en a lang, lang time indeed
Sin' I began to nick the thread
An' choke the breath:
Folk maun do something for their bread,
An' so maun Death.
13.
'Sax thousand years are near-hand fled
Sin' I was to the butching bred,
An' monie a scheme in vain's been laid
To stap or scar me;
Till ane Hornbook's ta'en up the trade,
And faith! he'll waur me.
14.
'Ye ken Jock Hornbook i' the clachan?
Deil mak his king's-hood in a spleuchan! --
He's grown sae weel acquaint wi' Buchan
And ither chaps,
The weans haud out their fingers laughin,
An' pouk my hips.
15.
'See here's a scythe, an' there's a dart,
They hae pierc'd monie a gallant heart;
But Doctor Hornbook wi' his art
An' cursed skill,
Has made them baith no worth a fart,
Damn'd haet they'll kill!
16.
'Twas but yestreen, nae farther gane,
I threw a noble throw at ane;
Wi' less, I'm sure, I've hundreds slain,
But Deil-ma-care!
It just played dirl on the bane,
But did nae mair.
17.
'Hornbook was by wi' ready art,
An' had sae fortify'd the part,
That when I looked to my dart,
It was sae blunt,
Fient haet o't wad hae pierc'd the heart
Of a kail-runt.
18.
'I drew my scythe in sic a fury,
I near-hand cowpit wi' my hurry,
But yet the bauld Apothecary
Withstood the shock:
I might as weel hae try'd a quarry
O' hard whin-rock.
19.
'Ev'n them he canna get attended,
Altho' their face he ne'er had kend it,
Just shite in a kail-blade an' send it,
As soon's he smells't,
Baith their disease and what will mend it,
At once he tells't.
20.
'And then a' doctor's saws and whittles
Of a' dimensions, shapes, an' mettles,
A' kinds o' boxes, mugs, and bottles,
He's sure to hae;
Their Latin names as fast he rattles
As A. B. C.
21.
'Calces o' fossils, earth, and trees;
True sal-marinum o' the seas;
The farina of beans an' pease,
He has't in plenty;
Aqua-fontis, what you please,
He can content ye.
22.
'Forbye some new, uncommon weapons,
Urinus spiritus of capons;
Or mite-horn shavings, filings, scrapings,
Distill'd per se;
Sal-alkali o' midge-tail-clippings,
And monie mae.'
23.
'Waes me for Johnie Ged's Hole now,'
Quoth I, 'if that thae news be true!
His braw calf-ward whare gowans grew
Sae white and bonie,
Nae doubt they'll rive it wi' the plew:
They'll ruin Johnie!'
24.
The creature grain'd an eldritch laugh
And says: 'Ye needna yoke the pleugh,
Kirkyards will soon be till'd eneugh,
Tak ye nae fear:
They'll a' be trench'd wi' monie a sheugh
In twa-three year.
25.
'Whare I kill'd ane, a fair strae death
By loss o' blood or want o' breath,
This night I'm free to tak my aith,
That Hornbook's skill
Has clad a score i' their last claith
By drap an' pill.
26.
'An honest wabster to his trade,
Whase wife's twa nieves were scarce weel bred,
Gat tippence-worth to mend her head,
When it was sair;
The wife slade cannie to her bed,
But ne'er spak mair.
27.
'A contra laird had taen the batts,
Or some curmurring in his guts,
His only son for Hornbook sets,
An' pays him well:
The lad, for twa guid gimmer-pets,
Was laird himsel.
28.
'A bonnie lass - ye kend her name --
Some ill-brewed drink had hov'd her wame;
She trusts hersel, to hide her shame,
In Hornbook's care;
Horn sent her aff to her lang hame
To hide it there.
29.
'That's just a swatch o' Hornbook's way;
Thus goes he on from day to day,
Thus does he poison, kill, an' slay,
An's weel paid for't,
Yet stops me o' my lawfu' prey
Wi' his damn'd dirt:
30.
'But, hark! I'll tell you of a plot,
Tho' dinna ye be speakin o't:
I'll nail the self-conceited sot,
As dead's a herrin;
Niest time we meet, I'll wad a groat,
He gets his fairin!'
31.
But just as he began to tell,
The auld kirk-hammer strak the bell
Some wee short hour ayont the twal,
Which raised us baith:
I took the way that pleas'd mysel,
And sae did Death.


Some books are lies from end to end,
And some great lies were never penned:
Even ministers, they have been known,
In holy rapture,
A rousing fib at times to vend (sell),
And nail it with Scripture.

But this that I am going to tell,
Which lately on a night befell,
Is just as true as the Deil is in hell
Or Dublin city:
That ever he nearer comes to ourselves
It is a great pity!

The village ale had made me jolly,
I was not drunk, but just had plenty:
I staggered now and then, but yet took care always
To clear the ditches;
And hillocks, stones, and bushes, knew always
From ghosts and witches.

The rising moon began to shine
The distant Cummock Hills out over (above):
To count her horns, with all my power
I set myself;
But whether she had three or four,
I could not tell.

I had come round about the hill,
And toddling down on Willie's mill,
Setting my staff with all my skill
To keep me steady,
Although leeward sometimes, against my will,
I took a run.

I there with Something did meet,
That put me in a ghostly dread;
An awful scythe, across one shoulder,
Clear dangling, hung;
A three pronged fish spear on the other
Lay, large and long.

Its stature seemed two Scotch ells long;
( An ell is 37 inches )
The queerest shape that ever I had seen,
For fiend a belly it had at all;
And then its legs,
They were as thin, as sharp and small
As cheeks of horse bridle.

Good evening,' said' I, 'Friend! have you been mowing,
When other folk are busy sowing?'
It seemed to make a kind of halt',
But nothing spoke.
At lengthk says I: 'Friend! where are you going?
Will ;ye go back:' (ie to the tavern)

It spoke right hollow: 'My name is Death,
But be not afraid.' Said I: 'Good faith,
You are may be come to stop my breath;
But heed me, comrade:
I advise you well, take care of damage,
See, there is a large knife!'

'Good man,' said he, 'put up your blade,
I am not designed to try its mettle;
But if I did, I would be difficult
To be unmannerly:
I would not mind it, not that spittle
Over my beard.'

'Well, well!' says I, 'a bargain be it;
Come, give your hand, and say we are agreed;
We will ease our legs, and take a seat:
Come, give me your news:
This while you have been on many a road,
At many a house.'

'Yes, yes!' said he, and shook his head,
'It is even a long, long time indeed
Since I began to nick the thread
And choke the breath:
Folk must do something for their bread,
And so must Death.

'Six thousand years are well-nigh fled
Since I was to the butchering bred,
And many a scheme in vain has been laid
To stop or scare me;
Until one Hornbook has taken up the trade,
And faith! he will worst (beat) me.

'You know Jock Hornbook in the village?
Devil make his scrotum in to tobacco pouch! -
He has grown so well acquainted with Buchan
And other fellows,
The children hold out their fingers laughing,
And poke my buttocks.

'See here is a scythe, and there is a dart,
They have pierced many a gallant heart;
But Doctor Hornbook with his art
And cursed skill,
Has made them both not worth a fart,
Damned small quantity they will kill!

'It was but yesterday, no further gone,
I threw a noble throw at one;
With less, I am sure, I have hundreds slain,
But I do not care a straw!
It just went tinkle on the bone,
But did no more.

'Hornbook was nearby with ready art,
And had so fortified the part,
That when I looked to my dart,
It was so blunt,
Nothing of it would have pierced the heart
Of a cabbage stalk.

'I drew my scythe in such a fury,
I nearly tumbled with my hurry,
But yet the bold Apothecary
Withstood the shock:
I might as well have tried to dig a quarry
Of hard whin rock (a type of granite).

'Even them he can not get attended,
Although their face he never had known it,
Just shit in a cabbage blade and send it,
As soon as he smells it,
Both their disease and what will cure it,
At once he tells it.

'And then all doctor's saws and knives
Of all dimensions, shapes, and mettles,
All kinds of boxes, mugs, and bottles,
He is sure to have;
Their Latin names as fast he rattles
As A. B. C.

'Calces of fossils, earth, and trees;
True sal-marinum of the seas;
The farina of beans and peas,
He has it in plenty;
Aqua-fontis, what you please,
He can content you.

'Besides some new, uncommon weapons,
Urinus spiritus of capons;
Or mite-horn shavings, filings, scrapings,
Distilled per se;
Sal-alkali of midge-tail-clippings,
And much more.'

'Woe is me for Johnie Ged's Hole (grave) now,'
Said I, 'if that these news be true!
His nice calf grazing plot where daisies grew
So white and bonny,
No doubt they will split it with the plough:
They will ruin Johnie!'

The creature groaned an unearthly laugh
And says: 'You need not yoke the plough,
Church yards will soon be tilled enough,
Take you no fear:
They will all be trenched with many a ditch
In two or three years.

'Where I killed one, a fair straw (in bed) death
By loss of blood or want of breath,
This night I am free to take my oath,
That Hornbook's skill
Has clad a score in their last cloth (burial shroud)
By drop and pill (medicine).

'An honest weaver to his trade,
Whose wife's two fists were scarce well bred,
Got two pennies worth to mend her head,
When it was sore;
The wife crept quietly to her bed,
But never spoke more (again).

'A country laird had taken the colic,
Or some commotion in his stomach,
His only son for Hornbook sends,
And pays him well:
The lad, for two good pet ewes,
Was laird himself.

'A lovely girl - you knew her name -
Some ill-brewed drink had put up her belly;
She trusts herself, to hide her shame,
In Hornbook's care;
Horn sent her off to her long home
To hide it there.

'That is just a sample of Hornbook's way;
Thus goes he on from day to day,
Thus does he poison, kill, and slay,
And is well paid for it,
Yet stops me of my lawful prey
With his damned dirt:

'But, hark! I will tell you of a plot,
Although do not you be speaking of it:
I will nail the self conceited sot,
As dead as a herring;
Next time we meet, I will wager a groat (a coin),
He gets his reward!'

But just as he began to tell,
The old church clapper struck the bell
Some small short hour beyond the twelve,
Which raised us both (got us to our legs):
I took the way that pleased myself,
And so did Death.

 

2004 WBC. Under no circumstances can any  of the contents of this site be copied, reproduced,  or represented without prior written consent.