Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. I. Of Home: of Friendship
Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume I. Of Home: of Friendship.  1904.
Poems of Home: V. The Home
The Cotter’s Saturday Night
Robert Burns (1759–1796)
Inscribed to R. Aiken, Esq.

 “Let not ambition mock their useful toil,
  Their homely joys and destiny obscure;
Nor grandeur hear, with a disdainful smile,
  The short but simple annals of the poor.”

  MY loved, my honored, much-respected friend,
    No mercenary bard his homage pays:
  With honest pride I scorn each selfish end;
    My dearest meed, a friend’s esteem and praise.
  To you I sing, in simple Scottish lays,        5
    The lowly train in life’s sequestered scene;
  The native feelings strong, the guileless ways;
    What Aiken in a cottage would have been;
Ah! though his worth unknown, far happier there, I ween.
  November chill blaws loud wi’ angry sugh;        10
    The shortening winter-day is near a close;
  The miry beasts retreating frae the pleugh,
    The blackening trains o’ craws to their repose;
  The toilworn cotter frae his labor goes,—
    This night his weekly moil is at an end,—        15
  Collects his spades, his mattocks, and his hoes,
    Hoping the morn in ease and rest to spend,
And weary, o’er the moor, his course does hameward bend.
  At length his lonely cot appears in view,
    Beneath the shelter of an aged tree;        20
  Th’ expectant wee things, toddlin’, stacher through
    To meet their dad, wi’ flichterin’ noise an’ glee.
  His wee bit ingle, blinking bonnily,
    His clean hearthstane, his thriftie wifie’s smile,
  The lisping infant prattling on his knee,        25
    Does a’ his weary carking cares beguile,
And makes him quite forget his labor and his toil.
  Belyve 1 the elder bairns come drapping in,
    At service out amang the farmers roun’;
  Some ca’ the pleugh, some herd, some tentie 2 rin        30
    A cannie errand to a neibor town;
  Their eldest hope, their Jenny, woman grown,
    In youthfu’ bloom, love sparkling in her e’e,
  Comes hame, perhaps, to shew a bra’ new gown,
    Or deposit her sair-won penny-fee,        35
To help her parents dear, if they in hardship be.
  Wi’ joy unfeigned brothers and sisters meet,
    An’ each for other’s weelfare kindly spiers:
  The social hours, swift-winged, unnoticed fleet;
    Each tells the uncos that he sees or hears;        40
  The parents, partial, eye their hopeful years;
    Anticipation forward points the view:
  The mother, wi’ her needle an’ her shears,
    Gars auld claes look amaist as weel ’s the new;
The father mixes a’ wi’ admonition due.        45
  Their master’s an’ their mistress’s command,
    The younkers a’ are warnèd to obey;
  And mind their labors wi’ an eydent 3 hand,
    And ne’er, though out o’ sight, to jauk or play;
  “An’ O, be sure to fear the Lord alway!        50
    An’ mind your duty, duly, morn an’ night!
  Lest in temptation’s path ye gang astray,
    Implore his counsel and assisting might;
They never sought in vain that sought the Lord aright!”
  But, hark! a rap comes gently to the door.        55
    Jenny, wha kens the meaning o’ the same,
  Tells how a neibor lad cam o’er the moor,
    To do some errands and convoy her hame.
  The wily mother sees the conscious flame
    Sparkle in Jenny’s e’e, and flush her cheek;        60
  Wi’ heart-struck anxious care inquires his name,
    While Jenny hafflins 4 is afraid to speak;
Weel pleased the mother hears it ’s nae wild, worthless rake.
  Wi’ kindly welcome, Jenny brings him ben;
    A strappin’ youth; he taks the mother’s e’e;        65
  Blithe Jenny sees the visit ’s no ill ta’en;
    The father cracks of horses, plenghs, and kye.
  The youngster’s artless heart o’erflows wi’ joy,
    But blate and lathefu’, scarce can weel behave;
  The mother, wi’ a woman’s wiles, can spy        70
    What makes the youth sae bashfu’ an’ sae grave;
Weel pleased to think her bairn’s respected like the lave.
  O happy love! where love like this is found!
    O heartfelt raptures! bliss beyond compare!
  I ’ve pacèd much this weary mortal round,        75
    And sage experience bids me this declare:—
  If Heaven a draught of heavenly pleasure spare,
    One cordial in this melancholy vale,
  ’T is when a youthful, loving, modest pair
    In other’s arms breathe out the tender tale,        80
Beneath the milk-white thorn that scents the evening gale.
  Is there, in human form, that bears a heart,
    A wretch, a villain, lost to love and truth,
  That can, with studied, sly, ensnaring art,
    Betray sweet Jenny’s unsuspecting youth?        85
  Curse on his perjured arts! dissembling smooth!
    Are honor, virtue, conscience, all exiled?
  Is there no pity, no relenting ruth,
    Points to the parents fondling o’er their child,
Then paints the ruined maid, and their distraction wild?        90
  But now the supper crowns their simple board,
    The halesome parritch, chief o’ Scotia’s food;
  The soupe their only hawkie 5 does afford,
    That ’yont the hallan 6 snugly chows her cood;
  The dame brings forth, in complimental mood,        95
    To grace the lad, her weel-hained kebbuck 7 fell,
  An’ aft he ’s prest, an’ aft he ca’s it guid;
    The frugal wifie, garrulous, will tell,
How ’t was a towmond 8 auld, sin’ lint was i’ the bell.
  The cheerfu’ supper done, wi’ serious face,        100
    They, round the ingle, form a circle wide;
  The sire turns o’er, wi’ patriarchal grace,
    The big ha’-Bible, ance his father’s pride;
  His bonnet reverently is laid aside,
    His lyart haffets 9 wearing thin an’ bare:        105
  Those strains that once did sweet in Zion glide,
    He wales a portion with judicious care;
And “Let us worship God!” he says with solemn air.
  They chant their artless notes in simple guise;
    They tune their hearts, by far the noblest aim:        110
  Perhaps “Dundee’s” wild-warbling measures rise,
    Or plaintive “Martyrs,” worthy of the name;
  Or noble “Elgin” beets 10 the heavenward flame,
    The sweetest far of Scotia’s holy lays:
  Compared with these, Italian trills are tame;        115
    The tickled ears no heartfelt raptures raise;
Nae unison hae they with our Creator’s praise.
  The priest-like father reads the sacred page,—
    How Abram was the friend of God on high;
  Or Moses bade eternal warfare wage        120
    With Amalek’s ungracious progeny;
  Or how the royal bard did groaning lie
    Beneath the stroke of Heaven’s avenging ire;
  Or Job’s pathetic plaint, and wailing cry;
    Or rapt Isaiah’s wild, seraphic fire;        125
Or other holy seers that tune the sacred lyre.
  Perhaps the Christian volume is the theme,—
    How guiltless blood for guilty man was shed;
  How He, who bore in heaven the second name,
    Had not on earth whereon to lay his head:        130
  How his first followers and servants sped;
    The precepts sage they wrote to many a land;
  How he, who lone in Patmos banishèd,
    Saw in the sun a mighty angel stand,
And heard great Bab’lon’s doom pronounced by Heaven’s command.        135
  Then, kneeling down, to heaven’s eternal King,
    The saint, the father, and the husband prays:
  Hope “springs exulting on triumphant wing,”
    That thus they all shall meet in future days;
  There ever bask in uncreated rays,        140
    No more to sigh, or shed the bitter tear,
  Together hymning their Creator’s praise,
    In such society, yet still more dear;
While circling Time moves round in an eternal sphere.
  Compared with this, how poor Religion’s pride,        145
    In all the pomp of method and of art,
  When men display to congregations wide,
    Devotion’s every grace, except the heart!
  The Power, incensed, the pageant will desert,
    The pompous strain, the sacerdotal stole;        150
  But, haply, in some cottage far apart,
    May hear, well pleased, the language of the soul;
And in his Book of Life the inmates poor enroll.
  Then homeward all take off their several way;
    The youngling cottagers retire to rest:        155
  The parent-pair their secret homage pay,
    And proffer up to Heaven the warm request,
  That He who stills the raven’s clamorous nest,
    And decks the lily fair in flowery pride,
  Would, in the way his wisdom sees the best,        160
    For them and for their little ones provide;
But, chiefly, in their hearts with grace divine preside.
  From scenes like these old Scotia’s grandeur springs,
    That makes her loved at home, revered abroad;
  Princes and lords are but the breath of kings,        165
    “An honest man ’s the noblest work of God!”
  And certès, in fair Virtue’s heavenly road,
    The cottage leaves the palace far behind:
  What is a lordling’s pomp?—a cumbrous load,
    Disguising oft the wretch of humankind,        170
Studied in arts of hell, in wickedness refined!
  O Scotia! my dear, my native soil!
    For whom my warmest wish to Heaven is sent,
  Long may thy hardy sons of rustic toil
    Be blest with health, and peace, and sweet content!        175
  And, O, may Heaven their simple lives prevent
    From luxury’s contagion, weak and vile!
  Then, howe’er crowns and coronets be rent,
    A virtuous populace may rise the while,
And stand a wall of fire around their much-loved isle.        180
  O Thou! who poured the patriotic tide,
    That streamed through Wallace’s undaunted heart;
  Who dared to nobly stem tyrannic pride,
    Or nobly die, the second glorious part,
  (The patriot’s God peculiarly thou art,        185
    His friend, inspirer, guardian, and reward!)
  O, never, never Scotia’s realm desert;
    But still the patriot and the patriot bard
In bright succession raise, her ornament and guard!
Note 1. By-and-by. [back]
Note 2. Cautious. [back]
Note 3. Diligent. [back]
Note 4. Half. [back]
Note 5. Cow. [back]
Note 6. Partition. [back]
Note 7. Cheese. [back]
Note 8. Twelvemonth. [back]
Note 9. Gray locks. [back]
Note 10.  [back]

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