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

Epistle To James Smith

Friendship, mysterious cement of the soul!
Sweet'ner of Life, and solder of Society!
I owe thee much ---
Blair

 

Burns Original

Standard English Translation

1.
Dear Smith, the slee'st, pawkie thief,
That e'er attempted stealth or rief!
Ye surely hae some warlock-breef
Owre human hearts;
For ne'er a bosom yet was prief
Against your arts.
2.
For me, I swear by sun an' moon,
And ev'ry star that blinks aboon,
Ye've cost me twenty pair o' shoon,
Just gaun to see you;
And ev'ry ither pair that's done,
Mair taen I'm wi' you.
3.
That auld, capricious carlin, Nature,
To mak amends for scrimpit stature,
She's turn'd you off, a human-creature
On her first plan;
And in her freaks, on ev'ry feature
She's wrote the Man.
4.
Just now I've taen the fit o' rhyme,
My barmie noddle 's working prime,
My fancy yerkit up sublime,
Wi' hasty summon:
Hae ye a leisure-moment's time
To hear what's comin?
5.
Some rhyme a neebor's name to lash;
Some rhyme (vain thought!) for needfu' cash;
Some rhyme to court the countra clash,
An' raise a din;
For me, an aim I never fash;
I rhyme for fun.
6.
The star that rules my luckless lot,
Has fated me the russet coat,
An' damn'd my fortune to the groat;
But, in requit,
Has blest me with a random-shot
O' countra wit.
7.
This while my notion's taen a sklent,
To try my fate in guid, black prent;
But still the mair I'm that way bent,
Something cries, 'Hoolie!
I red you, honest man, tak tent!
Ye'll shaw your folly:
8.
'There's ither poets, much your betters,
Far seen in Greek, deep men o' letters,
Hae thought they had ensur'd their debtors,
A' future ages;
Now moths deform, in shapeless tatters,
Their unknown pages.'
9.
Then farewell hopes o' laurel-boughs
To garland my poetic brows!
Henceforth I'll rove where busy ploughs
Are whistling thrang;
An' teach the lanely heights an' howes
My rustic sang.
10.
I'll wander on, wi' tentless heed
How never-halting moments speed,
Till Fate shall snap the brittle thread;
Then, all unknown,
I'll lay me with th' inglorious dead,
Forgot and gone!
11.
But why o' death begin a tale?
Just now we're living sound an' hale;
Then top and maintop crowd the sail,
Heave Care o'er-side!
And large, before Enjoyment's gale,
Let's tak the tide.
12.
This life, sae far's I understand,
Is a' enchanted fairy-land,
Where Pleasure is the magic-wand,
That, wielded right,
Maks hours like minutes, hand in hand,
Dance by fu' light.
13.
The magic-wand then let us wield;
For, ance that five-an'-forty 's speel'd,
See, crazy, weary, joyless Eild,
Wi' wrinkl'd face,
Comes hostin, hirplin owre the field,
Wi' creepin pace.
14.
When ance life's day draws near the gloamin,
Then fareweel vacant, careless roamin;
An' fareweel chearfu' tankards foamin,
An' social noise:
An' fareweel dear, deluding Woman,
The joy of joys!
15.
O Life! how pleasant, in the morning,
Young Fancy's rays the hills adorning!
Cold-pausing Caution's lesson scorning,
We frisk away,
Like school-boys, at th' expected warning,
To joy an' play.
16.
We wander there, we wander here,
We eye the rose upon the brier,
Unmindful that the thorn is near,
Among the leaves;
And tho' the puny wound appear,
Short while it grieves.
17.
Some, lucky, find a flow'ry spot,
For which they never toil'd nor swat;
They drink the sweet and eat the fat,
But care or pain;
And haply eye the barren hut
With high disdain.
18.
With steady aim, some Fortune chase;
Keen Hope does ev'ry sinew brace;
Thro' fair, thro' foul, they urge the race,
And seize the prey:
Then cannie, in some cozie place,
They close the day.
19.
And others like your humble servan',
Poor wights! nae rules nor roads observin,
To right or left eternal swervin,
They zig-zag on;
Till, curst with age, obscure an' starvin,
They aften groan.
20.
Alas! what bitter toil an' straining ---
But truce with peevish, poor complaining!
Is Fortune's fickle Luna waning?
E'en let her gang!
Beneath what light she has remaining,
Let's sing our sang.
21.
My pen I here fling to the door,
And kneel, ye Pow'rs! and warm implore,
'Tho' I should wander Terra o'er,
In all her climes,
Grant me but this, I ask no more,
Ay rowth o' rhymes.
22.
'Gie dreeping roasts to countra lairds,
Till icicles hing frae their beards;
Gie fine braw claes to fine life-guards
And maids of honor;
And yill an' whisky gie to cairds,
Until they sconner.
23.
'A title, Dempster merits it;
A garter gie to Willie Pitt;
Gie wealth to some be-ledger'd cit,
In cent. per cent.;
But give me real, sterling wit,
And I'm content.
24.
'While ye are pleas'd to keep me hale,
I'll sit down o'er my scanty meal,
Be't water-brose or muslin-kail,
Wi' cheerfu' face,
As lang's the Muses dinna fail
To say the grace.'
25.
An anxious e'e I never throws
Behint my lug, or by my nose;
I jouk beneath Misfortune's blows
As weel's I may;
Sworn foe to sorrow, care, and prose,
I rhyme away.
26.
O ye douce folk that live by rule,
Grave, tideless-blooded, calm an' cool,
Compar'd wi' you - O fool! Fool! Fool!
How much unlike!
Your hearts are just a standing pool,
Your lives a dyke!
27.
Nae hair-brained, sentimental traces
In your unletter'd, nameless faces!
In arioso trills and graces
Ye never stray;
But gravissimo, solemn, basses
Ye hum away.
28.
Ye are sae grave, nae doubt ye 're wise;
Nae ferly tho' ye do despise
The hairum-scairum, ram-stam boys,
The rattling squad:
I see ye upward cast your eyes ---
Ye ken the road!
29.
Whilst I - but I shall haud me there,
Wi' you I'll scarce gang onie where ---
Then, Jamie, I shall say nae mair,
But quat my sang.
Content wi' you to mak a pair,
Whare'er I gang.

 


Dear Smith, the sleekest, artful thief,
That ever attempted stealth or plunder!
You surely have some wizard spell
Over human hearts;
For never a bosom yet was proof
Against your arts.

For me, I swear by sun and moon,
And every star that blinks above,
You have cost me twenty pair of shoes,
Just going to see you;
And every other pair that is done,
More taken I am with you.

That old, capricious gossip, Nature,
To make amends for stunted stature,
She has turned you off, a human creature
On her first plan;
And in her freaks, on every feature
She has written the Man.

Just now I have taken the fit of rhyme,
My seething brain is working prime,
My fancy jerked up sublime,
With hasty summon:
Have you a leisure-moment's time
To hear what is coming?

Some rhyme a neighbour's name to lash;
Some rhyme (vain thought!) for needful cash;
Some rhyme to court the country talk,
And raise a din;
For me, an aim I never trouble about;
I rhyme for fun.

The star that rules my luckless lot,
Has fated me the coarse homespun coat,
And damned my fortune to the silver coin;
But, in requite (re-payment),
Has blessed me with a random-shot
Of country wit.

This while my notion has taken a turn,
To try my fate in good, black print;
But still the more I am that way bent,
Something cries, 'Softly!
I counsel you, honest man, take heed!
You will show your folly:

'There are other poets, much your betters,
Far seen in Greek, deep men of letters,
Have thought they had ensured their debtors,
All future ages;
Now moths deform, in shapeless tatters,
Their unknown pages.'

Then farewell hopes of laurel boughs
To garland my poetic brows!
Henceforth I will rove where busy ploughs
Are whistling at work;
And teach the lonely heights and hollows
My rustic song.

I will wander on, with careless heed
How never halting moments speed,
Till Fate shall snap the brittle thread;
Then, all unknown,
I will lay me with the inglorious dead,
Forgotten and gone!

But why of death begin a tale?
Just now we are living sound and well;
Then top and maintop crowd the sail,
Heave Care over the side!
And large, before Enjoyment's gale,
Let us take the tide.

This life, so far as I understand,
Is all enchanted fairy land,
Where Pleasure is the magic-wand,
That, wielded right,
Makes hours like minutes, hand in hand,
Dance by full light.

The magic wand then let us wield;
For, once that five-and-forty is climbed,
See, crazy, weary, joyless Eld (old age),
With wrinkled face,
Comes coughing, limping over the field,
With creeping pace.

When once life's day draws near the twilight,
Then farewell vacant, careless roaming;
And farewell cheerful tankards foaming,
And social noise:
And farewell dear, deluding Woman,
The joy of joys!

O Life! how pleasant, in the morning,
Young Fancy's rays the hills adorning!
Cold pausing Caution's lesson scorning,
We frisk away,
Like school boys, at the expected warning,
To joy and play.

We wander there, we wander here,
We eye the rose upon the brier,
Unmindful that the thorn is near,
Among the leaves;
And though the puny wound appear,
Short while it grieves.

Some, lucky, find a flowery spot,
For which they never toiled nor sweated;
They drink the sweet and eat the fat,
Without care or pain;
And by chance eye the barren hut
With high disdain.

With steady aim, some Fortune chase;
Keen Hope does every sinew brace;
Through fair, through foul, they urge the race,
And seize the prey:
Then quiet, in some snug place,
They close the day.

And others like your humble servant,
Poor person! no rules nor roads observing,
To right or left eternal swerving,
They zig-zag on;
Till, cursed with age, obscure and starving,
They often groan.

Alas! what bitter toil and straining ---
But truce with peevish, poor complaining!
Is Fortune's fickle Moon waning?
Even ler her go!
Beneath what light she has remaining,
Let us sing our song.

My pen I here fling to the door,
And kneel, you Powers! and warmly implore,
'Though I should wander The World over,
In all her climes,
Grant me but this, I ask no more,
Always plenty of rhymes.

'Give dripping roasts to country lairds,
Till icicles hang from their beards;
Give fine lovely clothes to fine life-guards
And maids of honour;
And ale and whisky give to tinkers,
Until they sicken.

'A title, Dempster merits it;
A garter give to Willie Pitt;
Give wealth to some be-ledgered merchant,
In cent. per cent.;
But give me real, sterling wit,
And I am content.

'While you are pleased to keep me healthy,
I will sit down over my scanty meal,
Be it oatmeal and water or beefless broth,
With cheerful face,
As long as the Muses do not fail
To say the grace.'

An anxious eye I never throws
Behind my ear, or by my nose;
I duck beneath Misfortune's blows
As well as I may;
Sworn foe to sorrow, care, and prose,
I rhyme away.

O you sedate folk that live by rule,
Grave, tideless blooded, calm and cool,
Compared with you - O fool! fool! fool!
How much unlike!
Your hearts are just a standing pool,
Your lives a wall!

No hair-brained, sentimental traces
In your unlettered, nameless faces!
In arioso trills and graces
You never stray;
But gravissimo, solemn, basses
You hum away.

You are so grave, no doubt you are wise;
No marvel though you do despise
The hairum-scairum, headlong boys,
The rattling squad:
I see you upward cast your eyes ---
You know the road!

Whilst I - but I shall hold me there,
With you I will scarce go anywhere ---
Then, Jamie, I shall say no more,
But quit my song.
Content with you to make a pair,
Wherever I go.

 

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