Robert Burns was born on January 25, 1759 in Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland.
He is the national poet of Scotland, revered for his rakish spirit and
for his preservation of Scots language and song. Burns published his first
volume of poems in 1786. A year later he began a project to collect and
write songs of Scotland. The most famous of these songs is Auld Lang Syne,
a perennial on New Year's Eve. Burns died in 1796, only 37 years old. He wrote,
Lord, grant that we may lead a gude life; for a gude life makes a gude end;
at least it helps weel!
Epistle to a Young Friend
Burns wrote this poem to Andrew Hunter Aitken,
who became a merchant in Liverpool and then a British consul in
Riga. Aitken died in 1831.
I lang hae thought, my youthfu friend,
A something to have sent you,
Tho it should serve nae ither end
Than just a kind memento:
But how the subject-theme may gang,
Let time and chance determine:
Perhaps it may turn out a sang;
Perhaps, turn out a sermon.
Ye'll try the world soon, my lad;
And, Andrew dear, believe me,
Ye'll find mankind an unco squad,
And muckle they may grieve ye:
For care and trouble set your thought,
Ev'n when your end's attained;
And a' your views may come to nought,
Where ev'ry nerve is strained.
I'll no say, men are villains a':
The real, harden'd wicked,
Wha hae nae check but human law,
Are to a few restricked;
But, och! mankind are unco weak,
An little to be trusted;
If self the wavering balance shake,
It's rarely right adjusted!
Yet they wha fa' in Fortune's strife,
Their fate we should na censure;
For still, th' important end of life
They equally may answer:
A man may hae an honest heart,
Tho poortith hourly stare him;
A man may tak a neebor's part,
Yet hae nae cash to spare him.
Ay free, aff han', your story tell,
When wi a bosom cronie;
But still keep something to yoursel
Ye scarcely tell to onie:
Conceal yoursel as weel's ye can
Frae critical dissection:
But keek thro ev'ry other man,
Wi sharpen'd, sly inspection.
The scared lowe o weel-plac'd love,
Luxuriantly indulge it;
But never tempt th' illicit rove,
Tho naething should divulge it:
I waive the quantum o the sin,
The hazard of concealing;
But, och! it hardens a' within,
And petrifies the feeling!
To catch Dame Fortune's golden smile,
Assiduous wait upon her;
And gather gear by ev'ry wile
That's justify'd by honor:
Not for to hide it in a hedge,
Nor for a train-attendant;
But for the glorious privilege
Of being independent.
The fear o Hell's a hangman's whip
To haud the wretch in order;
But where ye feel your honour grip,
Let that ay be your border:
Its slightest touches, instant pause -
Debar a' side-pretences;
And resolutely keep its laws,
The great Creator to revere,
Must sure become the creature;
But still the preaching cant forbear,
An ev'n the rigid feature:
Yet ne'er with wits profane to range
Be complaisance extended;
An atheist-laugh's a poor exchange
For Deity offended!
When ranting round in Pleasure's ring,
Religion may be blinded;
Or if she gie a random sting,
It may be little minded;
But when on Life we're tempest-driv'n -
A conscience but a canker -
A correspondence fix'd wi' Heav'n,
Is sure a noble anchor!
Adieu, dear, amiable youth!
Your heart can ne'er be wanting!
May prudence, fortitude, and truth,
Erect your brow undaunting!
In ploughman phrase, 'God send you speed,'
Still daily to grow wiser;
And may ye better reck the rede,
Than ever did th' adviser!
reck the reed
play the tune