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Epistle To William Simson

Schoolmaster, Ochiltree.—May, 1785

     I gat your letter, winsome Willie;
     Wi' gratefu' heart I thank you brawlie;
     Tho' I maun say't, I wad be silly,
     And unco vain,
     Should I believe, my coaxin billie
     Your flatterin strain.

     But I'se believe ye kindly meant it:
     I sud be laith to think ye hinted
     Ironic satire, sidelins sklented
     On my poor Musie;
     Tho' in sic phraisin terms ye've penn'd it,
     I scarce excuse ye.

     My senses wad be in a creel,
     Should I but dare a hope to speel
     Wi' Allan, or wi' Gilbertfield,
     The braes o' fame;
     Or Fergusson, the writer-chiel,
     A deathless name.

     (O Fergusson! thy glorious parts
     Ill suited law's dry, musty arts!
     My curse upon your whunstane hearts,
     Ye E'nbrugh gentry!
     The tithe o' what ye waste at cartes
     Wad stow'd his pantry!)

     Yet when a tale comes i' my head,
     Or lassies gie my heart a screed—
     As whiles they're like to be my dead,
     (O sad disease!)
     I kittle up my rustic reed;
     It gies me ease.

     Auld Coila now may fidge fu' fain,
     She's gotten poets o' her ain;
     Chiels wha their chanters winna hain,
     But tune their lays,
     Till echoes a' resound again
     Her weel-sung praise.

     Nae poet thought her worth his while,
     To set her name in measur'd style;
     She lay like some unkenn'd-of-isle
     Beside New Holland,
     Or whare wild-meeting oceans boil
     Besouth Magellan.

     Ramsay an' famous Fergusson
     Gied Forth an' Tay a lift aboon;
     Yarrow an' Tweed, to monie a tune,
     Owre Scotland rings;
     While Irwin, Lugar, Ayr, an' Doon
     Naebody sings.

     Th' Illissus, Tiber, Thames, an' Seine,
     Glide sweet in monie a tunefu' line:
     But Willie, set your fit to mine,
     An' cock your crest;
     We'll gar our streams an' burnies shine
     Up wi' the best!

     We'll sing auld Coila's plains an' fells,
     Her moors red-brown wi' heather bells,
     Her banks an' braes, her dens and dells,
     Whare glorious Wallace
     Aft bure the gree, as story tells,
     Frae Suthron billies.

     At Wallace' name, what Scottish blood
     But boils up in a spring-tide flood!
     Oft have our fearless fathers strode
     By Wallace' side,
     Still pressing onward, red-wat-shod,
     Or glorious died!

     O, sweet are Coila's haughs an' woods,
     When lintwhites chant amang the buds,
     And jinkin hares, in amorous whids,
     Their loves enjoy;
     While thro' the braes the cushat croods
     With wailfu' cry!

     Ev'n winter bleak has charms to me,
     When winds rave thro' the naked tree;
     Or frosts on hills of Ochiltree
     Are hoary gray;
     Or blinding drifts wild-furious flee,
     Dark'ning the day!

     O Nature! a' thy shews an' forms
     To feeling, pensive hearts hae charms!
     Whether the summer kindly warms,
     Wi' life an light;
     Or winter howls, in gusty storms,
     The lang, dark night!

     The muse, nae poet ever fand her,
     Till by himsel he learn'd to wander,
     Adown some trottin burn's meander,
     An' no think lang:
     O sweet to stray, an' pensive ponder
     A heart-felt sang!

     The war'ly race may drudge an' drive,
     Hog-shouther, jundie, stretch, an' strive;
     Let me fair Nature's face descrive,
     And I, wi' pleasure,
     Shall let the busy, grumbling hive
     Bum owre their treasure.

     Fareweel, "my rhyme-composing" brither!
     We've been owre lang unkenn'd to ither:
     Now let us lay our heads thegither,
     In love fraternal:
     May envy wallop in a tether,
     Black fiend, infernal!

     While Highlandmen hate tools an' taxes;
     While moorlan's herds like guid, fat braxies;
     While terra firma, on her axis,
     Diurnal turns;
     Count on a friend, in faith an' practice,
     In Robert Burns.

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