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When ripen'd fields, and azure skies,
And lonely stalk,
In pensive walk.
Th' adorèd name,
To sooth thy flame.
By passion driven;
Was light from heaven.
Of strains like the above, solemn and sublime, with that rapt and inspired melancholy in which the poet lifts
"above this visible diurnal sphere," the poems entitled “Despondency,” “The Lament,” “Winter, a Dirge, ” and the “Invocation to Ruin” afford no less striking examples. Of the tender and the moral, specimens equally advantageous might be drawn from the elegiac verses entitled "Man was made to mourn," from “The Cottar's Saturday Night," the stanzas “To a Mouse,” or those “To a Daisy," on turning it down with the plough in April, 1786. This last poem I shall insert entire, not from its superior merit, but because its length suits the bounds of my paper :
Wee, modest, crimson-tipp'd flow'r,
Thy slender stem;
Thou bonnie gem.
Wi sprocki'd breast,
The purpling east.
Cauld blew the bitter-biting north
Amid the storm,
Thy tender form.
The flaunting flow'rs our gardens yield,
O clod or stane,
There, in thy scanty mantle clad,
In humble guise ;
And low thou lies!
Such is the fate of artless maid,
And guileless trust,
Low i' the dust.
Such is the fate of simple bard,
Of prudent lore.
And whelm him o'er!
Such fate to suffering worth is giv'n,
To mis’ry's brink,
He, ruin'd, sink!
Ev'n thou who mourn'st the daisy's fate,
Full on thy bloom.
Shall be thy doom!
I have seldom met with an image more truly pastoral than that of the lark in the second stanza. Such strokes
as these mark the pencil of the poet, which delineates nature with the precision of intimacy, yet with the delicate colouring of beauty and of taste. The power of genius is not less admirable in tracing the manners than in painting the scenery of nature. That intuitive glance with which a writer like Shakespeare discerns the characters of men, with which he catches the many changing lines of life, forms a sort of problem in the science of mind, of which it is easier to see the truth than to assign the cause.
Though I am far from meaning to compare our rustic bard to Shakespeare, yet whoever will read his lighter and more humorous poems, his “Dialogue of the Dogs,” his “Dedication to G— H- Esq.,” his “Epistle to a Young Friend,” and “To W. S-n,” will perceive with what uncommon penetration and sagacity this heaventaught ploughman, from his humble and unlettered station, has looked upon men and manners.
Against some passages of these last-mentioned poems it has been objected that they breathe a spirit of libertinism and irreligion. But, if we consider the ignorance and fanaticism of the lower class of the people in the country where these poems were written, a fanaticism of that pernicious sort which sets faith in opposition to good works, the fallacy and danger of which a mind so enlightened as our poet's could not but perceive, we shall not look upon his lighter muse as the enemy of religion (of which in several places he expresses the justest sentiments), though she has been somewhat unguarded in her ridicule of hypocrisy.
In this, as in other respects, it must be allowed that there are exceptional parts of the volume he has given to the public which caution would have suppressed or correction struck out; but poets are seldom cautious, and our poet had, alas ! no friends or companions from whom correction could be obtained. When we reflect on his rank in life, the habits to which he must have been subject, and the society in which he must have mixed, we regret, perhaps, more than wonder that delicacy should be so
often offended in perusing a volume in which there is so much to interest and please us.
Burns possesses the spirit as well as the fancy of a poet. That honest pride and independence of soul which are sometimes the muse's only dower break forth on every occasion in his works. It may be, then, I shall wrong his feelings while I indulge my own, in calling the attention of the public to his situation and circumstances. That condition, humble as it was, in which he found content, and wooed the muse, might not be deemed uncomfortable; but grief and misfortunes have reached him there; and one or two of his poems hint, what I have learned from some of his countrymen, that he has been obliged to form the resolution of leaving his native land to seek, under a West Indian clime, that shelter and support which Scotland has denied him. But I trust means may be found to prevent this resolution from taking place; and I do my country no more than justice when I suppose her ready to stretch out her hand to cherish and retain this native poet, whose “wood-notes wild” possess so much excellence. To repair the wrongs of suffering or neglected merit; to call forth genius from the obscurity in which it had pined indignant, and place it where it may profit or delight the world—these are exertions which give to wealth an enviable superiority, to greatness and to patronage a laudable pride.
From "TRE MONTHLY REVIEW," December, 1786,
Poeta nascitur non fit is an old maxim, the truth of which has been generally admitted ; and although it be certain that, in modern times, many verses are manufactured from the brain of their authors with as much labour as the iron is drawn into form under the hammer of the smith, and required to be afterwards smoothed by the file with as much care as the burnishers of Sheffield employ to give the last finish to their wares; yet, after all, these verses, though ever so smooth, are nothing but verses, and have no genuine title to the name of Poems. The humble bard, whose work now demands our attention, cannot claim a place among these polished versifiers. His simple strains, artless and unadorned, seem to flow without effort from the native feelings of the heart. They are always nervous, sometimes inelegant, often natural, simple, and sublime. The objects that have obtained the attention of the author are humble ; for he himself, born in a low station, and following a laborious employment, has had no opportunity of observing scenes in the higher walks of life; yet his verses are sometimes struck off with a delicacy and artless simplicity that charms like the bewitching though irregular touches of a Shakespeare. We much regret that these poems are written in some measure in an unknown tongue, which must deprive most of our readers of the pleasure they would otherwise naturally create ; being composed in the Scottish dialect, which contains many words that are altogether unknown to an