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Epistle To Dr. John Mackenzie

 

Burns Original

Standard English Translation

1.
Dear Thinker John,
Your creed I like it past expression,
I'm sure, o' truth, it's nae transgression
To say the great Westminster Session,
Wi' a' their clatter,
In Carraches or large Confession
Ne'er made a better.
2.
For me, I ken a weel ploughed rigg,
I ken a handsome hizzie's leg
When, springing taper straught and trig,
It fires my fancy;
But system-Sandy mills to bigg
Is nae that chancy.
3.
Sma' skill in holy war I boast,
My wee bit spunk o' Latin's lost,
An' Logic gies me ay the hoast
An' cuts my win,
So I maun tak the rear-guard post
Far, far behind.
4.
I see the poopet ance a week,
An' carefu' every sentence cleek;
Or if frae - (Jean?) - a smirking keek
Spoil my devotion,
My carnal een I instant steek
Wi' double caution.
5.
Still, tho' nae staunch polemic head
O lang-win'd Athanasian breed,
I hae a wee-bit cantie creed
Just ae my ain,
An' tho' uncouthly it may read,
It's unco plain.
6.
Tho' human-kind be sae at odds,
Poor Waspish, animated clods,
There's just twa patent turnpike roads
They a' maun gang
To dark futurity's abodes -
The right an' wrang.
7.
If, spite of a' its crooks an' thraws,
The heav'nward road your fancy draws,
If ye resemble ought their laws
An' ways that's there,
Then march awa and never pause:
Your conduct's fair.
8.
But if ye think, within yoursel,
You'll fairly tak your chance o' hell,
An' honestly your notion tell,
Free, unashamed,
Then faith, I see nae how that well
Ye can be blam'd.
9.
But here the conduct I call evil:
Some at their heart wad sair the devil,
Yet groan, and drone, an' sigh, and snivel,
An' pray and cant,
An' be to heaven as fair an' civil
As ony saunt.
10.
Thae rotten-hearted twa-fac'd wretches,
Wi' a' their hypocritic fetches,
I would rejoice in well-splic'd stitches
O' hempen string
Out owre a tree, the sons o' bitches,
To see them swing.
11.
Ye see my skill's but very sma',
Some folk may think I've nane ava,
But we sall gie our pens a claw
Some ither time,
An' hae a bout between us twa
At prose an' rhyme.
12.
Farewell, dear death-defying John!
Aft hunt-the-gowke for you he's gone,
But some day he'll come down the loan
Wi' spurtlin shanks,
An' grip ye till he gar you groan,
By way of Thanks.
13.
But first, before that come to pass:
May ye toom many a social glass,
An' bless a dear warm-hearted lass
That likes you some;
Then after fifty simmers grass
E'en let him come!


Dear Thinker John,
Your creed I like it past expression,
I am sure, of truth, it is no transgression
To say the great Westminster Session,
With all their disputation,
In Carraches or large Confession
Never made a better.

For me, I know a well ploughed furrow,
I know a handsome girl's leg
When, springing taper straight and neat,
It fires my fancy;
But system-Sandy mills to large
Is not that chancy.

Small skill in holy war I boast,
My little bit spirit of Latin is lost,
And Logic gives me always the cough
And cuts my wind,
So I must take the rear-guard post
Far, far behind.

I see the pulpit once a week,
And carefully every sentence snatch;
Or if from - (Jean?) - a smirking look
Spoil my devotion,
My carnal eyes I instantly shut
With double caution.

Still, though no staunch polemic head
Of long-winded Athanasian breed,
I have a little bit joyful creed
Just of my own,
And though uncouthly it may read,
It is uncommonly plain.

Though human-kind be so at odds,
Poor Waspish, animated clods,
There is just two patent turnpike roads
They all must go
To dark futurity's abodes -
The right and wrong.

If, (in) spite of all its turns and oppositions,
The heavenward road your fancy draws,
If you resemble in any way their laws
And ways that is there,
Then march away and never pause:
Your conduct is fair.

But if you think, within yourself,
You will fairly take your chance of hell,
And honestly your notion tell,
Free, unashamed,
Then faith, I see not how that well
You can be blamed.

But here the conduct I call evil:
Some at their heart would serve the devil,
Yet groan, and drone, and sigh, and snivel,
And pray and cant,
And be to heaven as fair and civil
As any saint.

Those rotten-hearted two-faced wretches,
With all their hypocritical gurgles,
I would rejoice in well-spliced stitches
Of hemp rope
Out over a tree, the sons of bitches,
To see them swing.

You see my skill is but very small,
Some folk may think I have none at all,
But we shall give our pens a scratch
Some other time,
And have a bout between as two
At prose and rhyme.

Farewell, dear death-defying John!
Often hunt-the-fool for you he is gone,
But some day he will come down the lane
With stick-like legs,
And grip you till he makes you groan,
By way of Thanks.

But first, before that come to pass:
May you empty many a social glass,
And bless a dear warm-hearted lass
That likes you some;
Then after fifty summers grass
Even let him come!

 

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