Verse > Harvard Classics > Robert Burns > Poems and Songs
Robert Burns (1759–1796).  Poems and Songs.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
68. The Holy Fair
A robe of seeming truth and trust
  Hid crafty Observation;
And secret hung, with poison’d crust,
  The dirk of Defamation:
A mask that like the gorget show’d,
  Dye-varying on the pigeon;
And for a mantle large and broad,
  He wrapt him in Religion.
UPON 1 a simmer Sunday morn
  When Nature’s face is fair,
I walked forth to view the corn,
  An’ snuff the caller air.
The rising sun owre Galston muirs        5
  Wi’ glorious light was glintin;
The hares were hirplin down the furrs,
  The lav’rocks they were chantin
                Fu’ sweet that day.
As lightsomely I glowr’d abroad,        10
  To see a scene sae gay,
Three hizzies, early at the road,
  Cam skelpin up the way.
Twa had manteeles o” dolefu’ black,
  But ane wi’ lyart lining;        15
The third, that gaed a wee a-back,
  Was in the fashion shining
                Fu’ gay that day.
The twa appear’d like sisters twin,
  In feature, form, an’ claes;        20
Their visage wither’d, lang an’ thin,
  An’ sour as only slaes:
The third cam up, hap-stap-an’-lowp,
  As light as ony lambie,
An’ wi’a curchie low did stoop,        25
  As soon as e’er she saw me,
                Fu’ kind that day.
Wi’ bonnet aff, quoth I, “Sweet lass,
  I think ye seem to ken me;
I’m sure I’ve seen that bonie face        30
  But yet I canna name ye.”
Quo’ she, an’ laughin as she spak,
  An’ taks me by the han’s,
“Ye, for my sake, hae gien the feck
  Of a’ the ten comman’s        35
                A screed some day.”
“My name is Fun—your cronie dear,
  The nearest friend ye hae;
An’ this is Superstitution here,
  An’ that’s Hypocrisy.        40
I’m gaun to Mauchline Holy Fair,
  To spend an hour in daffin:
Gin ye’ll go there, yon runkl’d pair,
  We will get famous laughin
                At them this day.”        45
Quoth I, “Wi’ a’ my heart, I’ll do’t;
  I’ll get my Sunday’s sark on,
An’ meet you on the holy spot;
  Faith, we’se hae fine remarkin!”
Then I gaed hame at crowdie-time,        50
  An’ soon I made me ready;
For roads were clad, frae side to side,
  Wi’ mony a weary body
                In droves that day.
Here farmers gash, in ridin graith,        55
  Gaed hoddin by their cotters;
There swankies young, in braw braid-claith,
  Are springing owre the gutters.
The lasses, skelpin barefit, thrang,
  In silks an’ scarlets glitter;        60
Wi’ sweet-milk cheese, in mony a whang,
  An’ farls, bak’d wi’ butter,
                Fu’ crump that day.
When by the plate we set our nose,
  Weel heaped up wi’ ha’pence,        65
A greedy glowr black-bonnet throws,
  An’ we maun draw our tippence.
Then in we go to see the show:
  On ev’ry side they’re gath’rin;
Some carrying dails, some chairs an’ stools,        70
  An’ some are busy bleth’rin
                Right loud that day.
Here stands a shed to fend the show’rs,
  An’ screen our countra gentry;
There “Racer Jess, 2 an’ twa-three whores,        75
  Are blinkin at the entry.
Here sits a raw o’ tittlin jads,
  Wi’ heaving breast an’ bare neck;
An’ there a batch o’ wabster lads,
  Blackguarding frae Kilmarnock,        80
                For fun this day.
Here, some are thinkin on their sins,
  An’ some upo’ their claes;
Ane curses feet that fyl’d his shins,
  Anither sighs an’ prays:        85
On this hand sits a chosen swatch,
  Wi’ screwed-up, grace-proud faces;
On that a set o’ chaps, at watch,
  Thrang winkin on the lasses
                To chairs that day.        90
O happy is that man, an’ blest!
  Nae wonder that it pride him!
Whase ain dear lass, that he likes best,
  Comes clinkin down beside him!
Wi’ arms repos’d on the chair back,        95
  He sweetly does compose him;
Which, by degrees, slips round her neck,
  An’s loof upon her bosom,
                Unkend that day.
Now a’ the congregation o’er        100
  Is silent expectation;
For Moodie 3 speels the holy door,
  Wi’ tidings o’ damnation:
Should Hornie, as in ancient days,
  ’Mang sons o’ God present him,        105
The vera sight o’ Moodie’s face,
  To ’s ain het hame had sent him
                Wi’ fright that day.
Hear how he clears the point o’ faith
  Wi’ rattlin and wi’ thumpin!        110
Now meekly calm, now wild in wrath,
  He’s stampin, an’ he’s jumpin!
His lengthen’d chin, his turned-up snout,
  His eldritch squeel an’ gestures,
O how they fire the heart devout,        115
  Like cantharidian plaisters
                On sic a day!
But hark! the tent has chang’d its voice,
  There’s peace an’ rest nae langer;
For a’ the real judges rise,        120
  They canna sit for anger,
Smith 4 opens out his cauld harangues,
  On practice and on morals;
An’ aff the godly pour in thrangs,
  To gie the jars an’ barrels        125
                A lift that day.
What signifies his barren shine,
  Of moral powers an’ reason?
His English style, an’ gesture fine
  Are a’ clean out o’ season.        130
Like Socrates or Antonine,
  Or some auld pagan heathen,
The moral man he does define,
  But ne’er a word o’ faith in
                That’s right that day.        135
In guid time comes an antidote
  Against sic poison’d nostrum;
For Peebles, 5 frae the water-fit,
  Ascends the holy rostrum:
See, up he’s got, the word o’ God,        140
  An’ meek an’ mim has view’d it,
While Common-sense has taen the road,
  An’ aff, an’ up the Cowgate 6
                Fast, fast that day.
Wee Miller 7 neist the guard relieves,        145
  An’ Orthodoxy raibles,
Tho’ in his heart he weel believes,
  An’ thinks it auld wives’ fables:
But faith! the birkie wants a manse,
  So, cannilie he hums them;        150
Altho’ his carnal wit an’ sense
  Like hafflins-wise o’ercomes him
                At times that day.
Now, butt an’ ben, the change-house fills,
  Wi’ yill-caup commentators;        155
Here ’s cryin out for bakes and gills,
  An’ there the pint-stowp clatters;
While thick an’ thrang, an’ loud an’ lang,
  Wi’ logic an’ wi’ scripture,
They raise a din, that in the end        160
  Is like to breed a rupture
                O’ wrath that day.
Leeze me on drink! it gies us mair
  Than either school or college;
It kindles wit, it waukens lear,        165
  It pangs us fou o’ knowledge:
Be’t whisky-gill or penny wheep,
  Or ony stronger potion,
It never fails, or drinkin deep,
  To kittle up our notion,        170
                By night or day.
The lads an’ lasses, blythely bent
  To mind baith saul an’ body,
Sit round the table, weel content,
  An’ steer about the toddy:        175
On this ane’s dress, an’ that ane’s leuk,
  They’re makin observations;
While some are cozie i’ the neuk,
  An’ forming assignations
                To meet some day.        180
But now the L—’s ain trumpet touts,
  Till a’ the hills are rairin,
And echoes back return the shouts;
  Black Russell is na sparin:
His piercin words, like Highlan’ swords,        185
  Divide the joints an’ marrow;
His talk o’ Hell, whare devils dwell,
  Our vera “sauls does harrow”
                Wi’ fright that day!
A vast, unbottom’d, boundless pit,        190
  Fill’d fou o’ lowin brunstane,
Whase raging flame, an’ scorching heat,
  Wad melt the hardest whun-stane!
The half-asleep start up wi’ fear,
  An’ think they hear it roarin;        195
When presently it does appear,
  ’Twas but some neibor snorin
                Asleep that day.
’Twad be owre lang a tale to tell,
  How mony stories past;        200
An’ how they crouded to the yill,
  When they were a’ dismist;
How drink gaed round, in cogs an’ caups,
  Amang the furms an’ benches;
An’ cheese an’ bread, frae women’s laps,        205
  Was dealt about in lunches
                An’ dawds that day.
In comes a gawsie, gash guidwife,
  An’ sits down by the fire,
Syne draws her kebbuck an’ her knife;        210
  The lasses they are shyer:
The auld guidmen, about the grace
  Frae side to side they bother;
Till some ane by his bonnet lays,
  An’ gies them’t like a tether,        215
                Fu’ lang that day.
Waesucks! for him that gets nae lass,
  Or lasses that hae naething!
Sma’ need has he to say a grace,
  Or melvie his braw claithing!        220
O wives, be mindfu’ ance yoursel’
  How bonie lads ye wanted;
An’ dinna for a kebbuck-heel
  Let lasses be affronted
                On sic a day!        225
Now Clinkumbell, wi’ rattlin tow,
  Begins to jow an’ croon;
Some swagger hame the best they dow,
  Some wait the afternoon.
At slaps the billies halt a blink,        230
  Till lasses strip their shoon:
Wi’ faith an’ hope, an’ love an’ drink,
  They’re a’ in famous tune
                For crack that day.
How mony hearts this day converts        235
  O’ sinners and o’ lasses!
Their hearts o’ stane, gin night, are gane
  As saft as ony flesh is:
There’s some are fou o’ love divine;
  There’s some are fou o’ brandy;        240
An’ mony jobs that day begin,
  May end in houghmagandie
                Some ither day.
Note 1. “Holy Fair” is a common phrase in the west of Scotland for a sacramental occasion.—R. B. [back]
Note 2. Racer Jess (d. 1813) was a half-witted daughter of Poosie Nansie. She was a great pedestrian. [back]
Note 3. Rev. Alexander Moodie of Riccarton. [back]
Note 4. Rev. George Smith of Galston. [back]
Note 5. Rev. Wm. Peebles of Newton-upon-Ayr. [back]
Note 6. A street so called which faces the tent in Mauchline.—R. B. [back]
Note 7. Rev. Alex. Miller, afterward of Kilmaurs. [back]


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