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On Glenriddell's Fox Breaking His Chain
A Fragment, 1791

 

Burns Original

Standard English Translation

 

Thou, Liberty, thou art my theme:
Not such as idle poets dream,
Who trick thee up a heathen goddess
That a fantastic cap and rod has!
Such stale conceits are poor and silly:
I paint thee out a Highland filly,
A sturdy, stubborn, handsome dapple,
As sleek's a mouse, as round's an apple,
That, when thou pleasest, can do wonders,
But when thy luckless rider blunders,
Or if thy fancy should demur there,
Wilt break thy neck ere thou go further.

These things premis'd, I sing a Fox -
Was caught among his native rocks,
And to a dirty kennel chained -
How he his liberty regained.

Glenriddell! a Whig without a stain,
A Whig in principle and grain,
Could'st thou enslave a free-born creature,
A native denizen of Nature?
How could'st thou, with a heart so good
(A better ne'er was sluiced with blood),
Nail a poor devil to a tree,
That ne'er did harm to thine or thee?

The staunchest Whig Glenriddell was,
Quite frantic in his country's cause;
And oft was Reynard's prison passing,
And with his brother-Whigs canvassing
The rights of men, the powers of women,
With all the dignity of Freemen.

Sir Reynard daily heard debates
Of princes', kings', and nations' fates,
With many rueful, bloody stories
Of tyrants, Jacobites, and Tories:
From liberty how angels fell,
That now are galley-slaves in Hell;
How Nimrod first the trade began
Of binding Slavery's chains on man;
How fell Semiramis - God damn her! -
Did first, with sacrilegious hammer
(All ills till then were trivial matters)
For Man dethron'd forge hen-peck fetters;
How Xerses, that abandoned Tory,
Thought cutting throats was reaping glory,
Until the stubborn Whigs of Sparta
Taught him great Nature's Magna Charta;
How mighty Rome her fiat hurl'd
Resistless o'er a bowing world,
And, kinder than they did desire,
Polish'd mankind with sword and fire:
With much too tedious to relate
Of ancient and of modern date,
But ending still how Billy Pitt
(Unlucky boy!) with wicked wit
Has gagg'd old Britain, drained her coffer,
As butchers bind and bleed a heifer.

Thus wily Reynard, by degrees
In kennel listening at his ease,
Suck'd in a mighty stock of knowledge,
As much as some folks at a college;
Knew Britain's rights and constitution,
Her aggrandisement, diminution;
How Fortune wrought us good from evil:
Let no man, then, despise the Devil,
As who should say: ' I ne'er can need him,'
Since we to scoundrels owe our Freedom.

 

 

You, Liberty, you are my theme:
Not such as idle poets dream,
Who trick you up a heathen goddess
That a fantastic cap and rod has!
Such stale conceits are poor and silly:
I paint you out a Highland filly,
A sturdy, stubborn, handsome dapple,
As sleek as a mouse, as round as an apple,
That, when you pleases, can do wonders,
But when your luckless rider blunders,
Or if your fancy should demur there,
Will break your neck ere you go further.

These things premised, I sing a Fox -
Was caught among his native rocks,
And to a dirty kennel chained -
How he his liberty regained.

Glenriddell! a Whig without a stain,
A Whig in principle and grain,
Could you enslave a free-born creature,
A native denizen of Nature?
How could you, with a heart so good
(A better never was sluiced with blood),
Nail a poor devil to a tree,
That never did harm to yours or you?

The staunchest Whig Glenriddell was,
Quite frantic in his country's cause;
And often was Reynard's prison passing,
And with his brother-Whigs canvassing
The rights of men, the powers of women,
With all the dignity of Freemen.

Sir Reynard daily heard debates
Of princes', kings', and nations' fates,
With many rueful, bloody stories
Of tyrants, Jacobites, and Tories:
From liberty how angels fell,
That now are galley-slaves in Hell;
How Nimrod first the trade began
Of binding Slavery's chains on man;
How fell Semiramis - God damn her! -
Did first, with sacrilegious hammer
(All ills till then were trivial matters)
For Man dethroned forge hen-peck fetters;
How Xerses, that abandoned Tory,
Thought cutting throats was reaping glory,
Until the stubborn Whigs of Sparta
Taught him great Nature's Magna Charta;
How mighty Rome her fiat hurled
Resistless over a bowing world,
And, kinder than they did desire,
Polished mankind with sword and fire:
With much too tedious to relate
Of ancient and of modern date,
But ending still how Billy Pitt
(Unlucky boy!) with wicked wit
Has gagged old Britain, drained her coffer,
As butchers bind and bleed a heifer.

Thus wily Reynard, by degrees
In kennel listening at his ease,
Sucked in a mighty stock of knowledge,
As much as some folks at a college;
Knew Britain's rights and constitution,
Her aggrandisement, diminution;
How Fortune wrought us good from evil:
Let no man, then, despise the Devil,
As who should say: ' I never can need him,'
Since we to scoundrels owe our Freedom.

 

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