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Epistle To J. Lapraik

An Old Scottish Bard, April 1, 1785.

 

 

Burns Original

Standard English Translation

1.
While briers an' woodbines budding green,
And paitricks scraichin loud at e'en,
An' morning poussie whiddin seen,
Inspire my Muse,
This freedom, in an unknown frien'
I pray excuse.
2.
On Fasten-e'en we had a rockin,
To ca' the crack and weave our stockin;
And there was muckle fun and jokin,
Ye need na doubt;
At length we had a hearty yokin,
At 'sang about.'
3.
There was ae sang, amang the rest,
Aboon them a' it pleas'd me best,
That some kind husband had addrest
To some sweet wife:
It thirl'd the heart-strings thro' the breast,
A' to the life.
4.
I've scarce heard ought describ'd sae weel,
What gen'rous, manly bosoms feel;
Thought I, 'Can this be Pope or Steele,
Or Beattie's wark?'
They tald me 'twas an odd kind chiel
About Muirkirk.
5.
It pat me fidgin-fain to hear't,
An' sae about him there I spier't:
Then a' that kent him round declar'd
He had ingine;
That nane excell'd it, few cam near't,
It was sae fine:
6.
That, set him to a pint of ale,
An' either douce or merry tale,
Or rhymes an' sangs he'd made himsel,
Or witty catches,
'Tween Inverness an' Teviotdale,
He had few matches.
7.
Then up I gat, an' swoor an aith,
Tho' I should pawn my pleugh an' graith,
Or die a cadger pownie's death,
At some dyke-back,
A pint an' gill I'd gie them baith,
To hear your crack.
8.
But, first an' foremost, I should tell,
Amaist as soon as I could spell,
I to the crambo-jingle fell;
Tho' rude an' rough --
Yet crooning to a body's sel,
Does weel eneugh.
9.
I am nae poet, in a sense;
But just a rhymer like by chance,
An' hae to learning nae pretence;
Yet, what the matter?
Whene'er my Muse does on me glance,
I jingle at her.
10.
Your critic-folk may cock their nose,
And say, 'How can you e'er propose,
You wha ken hardly verse frae prose,
To mak a sang?'
But, by your leaves, my learned foes,
Ye're maybe wrang.
11.
What's a' your jargon o' your Schools,
Your Latin names for horns an' stools?
If honest Nature made you fools,
What sairs your grammers
Ye'd better taen up spades and shools,
Or knappin-hammers.
12.
A set o' dull, conceited hashes
Confuse their brains in college-classes,
They gang in stirks, and come out asses,
Plain truth to speak;
An' syne they think to climb Parnassus
By dint o' Greek!
13.
Gie me ae spark o' Nature's fire,
That's a' the learning I desire;
Then, tho' I drudge thro' dub an' mire
At pleugh or cart,
My Muse, tho' hamely in attire,
May touch the heart.
14.
O for a spunk o' Allan's glee,
Or Fergusson's, the bauld an' slee,
Or bright Lapraik's, my friend to be,
If I can hit it!
That would be lear eneugh for me,
If I could get it.
15.
Now, sir, if ye hae friends enow,
Tho' real friends I b'lieve are few;
Yet, if your catalogue be fow,
I'se no insist:
But, gif ye want ae friend that's true,
I'm on your list.
16.
I winna blaw about mysel,
As ill I like my fauts to tell;
But friends, an' folks that wish me well,
They sometimes roose me;
Tho', I maun own, as monie still
As far abuse me.
17.
There's ae wee faut they whyles lay to me,
I like the lasses - Gude forgie me!
For monie a plack they wheedle frae me
At dance or fair;
Maybe some ither thing they gie me,
They weel can spare.
18.
But Mauchline Race or Mauchline Fair,
I should be proud to meet you there:
We'se gie ae night's discharge to care,
If we forgather:
And hae a swap o' rhymin-ware
Wi' ane anither.
19.
The four-gill chap, we'se gar him clatter,
An' kirsen him wi' reekin water;
Syne we'll sit down an' tak our whitter,
To cheer our heart;
An' faith, we'se be acquainted better
Before we part.
20.
Awa ye selfish, warly race,
Wha think that havins, sense, an' grace,
Ev'n love an' friendship should give place
To Catch-the-Plack!
I dinna like to see your face,
Nor hear your crack.
21.
But ye whom social pleasure charms,
Whose hearts the tide of kindness warms,
Who hold your being on the terms,
'Each aid the others,'
Come to my bowl, come to my arms,
My friends, my brothers!
22.
But to conclude my lang epistle,
As my auld pen's worn to the grissle,
Twa lines frae you wad gar me fissle,
Who am most fervent,
While I can either sing or whistle,
Your friend and servant.


While briers and woodbines budding green,
And partridges calling loud at evening,
And morning hare scudding seen,
Inspire my Muse,
This freedom, in an unknown friend
I pray excuse.

On Fasten's evening (before Lent) we had a meeting,
To have a chat and weave our stocking;
And there was much fun and joking,
You need not doubt;
At length we had a hearty set-to,
At 'sang about.'

There was one song, among the rest,
Above them all it pleased me best,
That some kind husband had addressed
To some sweet wife:
It thrilled the heart-strings through the breast,
All to the life.

I have scarce heard anything described so well,
What generous, manly bosoms feel;
Thought I, 'Can this be Pope or Steele,
Or Beattie's work?'
They told me it was an odd kind young fellow
About (in the region of) Muirkirk.

It put me tingling-wild to hear it,
And so about him there I asked:
Then all that knew him round declared
He had genius;
That none excelled it, few came near it,
It was so fine:

That, set him to a pint of ale,
And either sober or merry tale,
Or rhymes and songs he had made himself,
Or witty catches,
Between Inverness and Teviotdale,
He had few matches.

Then up I got, and swore an oath,
Though I should pawn my plough and harness,
Or die a hawker pony's death,
At some back of a wall,
A pint and gill I would give them both,
To hear your talk.

But, first and foremost, I should tell,
Almost as soon as I could spell,
I to the rhyming fell;
Though rude and rough -
Yet crooning to a body's soul,
Does well enough.

I am no poet, in a sense;
But just a rhymer like by chance,
And have to learning no pretence;
Yet, what the matter?
Whenever my Muse does on me glance,
I jingle at her.

Your critic-folk may cock their nose,
And say, 'How can you ever propose,
You who know hardly verse from prose,
To make a song?'
But, by your leaves, my learned foes,
You are maybe wrong.

What is all your jargon of your Schools,
Your Latin names for horns and stools?
If honest Nature made you fools,
What serves your grammars
You would better taken up spades and shovels,
Or stone breaking.

A set of dull, conceited dunderheads
Confuse their brains in college-classes,
They go in young bullocks, and come out asses,
Plain truth to speak;
And then they think to climb Parnassus
By dint of Greek!

Give me one spark of Nature's fire,
That is all the learning I desire;
Then, though I drudge through puddle and mire
At plough or cart,
My Muse, though homely in attire,
May touch the heart.

O for a spark of Allan's glee,
Or Fergusson's, the bold and sly,
Or bright Lapraik's, my friend to be,
If I can hit it!
That would be learning enough for me,
If I could get it.

Now, sir, if you have friends enough,
Though real friends I believe are few;
Yet, if your catalogue be full,
I will not insist:
But, if you want one friend that is true,
I am on your list.

I will not brag about myself,
As ill I like my faults to tell;
But friends, and folks that wish me well,
They sometimes praise me;
Though, I must own, as many still
As far abuse me.

There is one little fault they sometimes lay to me,
I like the lasses - God forgive me!
For many a coin they wheedle from me
At dance or fair;
Maybe some other thing they give me,
They well can spare.

But Mauchline Race or Mauchline Fair,
I should be proud to meet you there:
We will give one night's discharge to care,
If we forgather:
And have a swap of rhyming ware
With one another.

The four-gill cup, we will make him clatter,
And christen him with steaming water;
Then we will sit down and take our draught,
To cheer our heart;
And faith, we will be acquainted better
Before we part.

Away you selfish, worldly race,
Who think that manners, sense, and grace,
Even love and friendship should give place
To the hunt for money!
I do not like to see your face,
Nor hear your talk.

But you whom social pleasure charms,
Whose hearts the tide of kindness warms,
Who hold your being on the terms,
'Each aid the others,'
Come to my bowl, come to my arms,
My friends, my brothers!

But to conclude my long epistle,
As my old pen is worn to the gristle,
Two lines from you would make me tingle,
Who am most fervent,
While I can either sing or whistle,
Your friend and servant.

 

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