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One point must still be greatly dark
Who made the heart, 'tis He alone
He knows each chord-its various tone,
We never can adjust it;
What's done we partly may compute,
But know not what's resisted."
As a poet Burns's life was incomplete. His struggle with poverty and his bad habits left him only fragments of his power to be devoted to literature. He was not guided by the controlling influence of a great purpose. His efforts were spasmodic- the result of accidental circumstances. His genius has not the range of Shakespeare's; but within its limits it is unsurpassed. He was the greatest peasant poet that ever lived. Unlike Wordsworth, in whom the reflective element is largely developed, Burns is a painter of nature. He has glorified the landscape of his native land. Beyond all other poets he has caught the beauty, the humor, the pathos, of every-day life. He was thoroughly honest in his best writings. There is no attitudinizing in his poems, no pretence to unreal sentiment. He was a poet —
"Whose songs gushed from his heart,
He felt deeply, and then poured forth his song because he could not otherwise find peace. He could not endure affectation, rant, hypocrisy. At heart devout before the great Author and Preserver of all things, he yet rebelled against some of the hard features religion had assumed. In his "Epistle to a Young Friend," his real feelings are indicated:
"The great Creator to revere,
Must sure become the creature;
Yet ne'er with wits profane to range,
An Atheist's laugh's a poor exchange
When ranting round in pleasure's ring,
Or, if she gie a random sting,
It may be little minded:
But when on life we're tempest-driven,
A conscience but a canker
A correspondence fixed wi' Heaven,
Is sure a noble anchor."
More than any other man he saw the beauty of a sincere religious life, to a portrayal of which he devoted the best of his poems. His sensibilities were extraordinarily sensitive and strong. "There is scarcely any earthly object," he says, "gives me more -I do not know if I should call it pleasure — but something which exalts me, something which enraptures me -than to walk in the sheltered side of a wood or high plantation in a cloudy winter day, and hear the stormy wind howling among the trees and raving over the plain. . . . I listened to the birds and frequently turned out of my path, lest I should disturb their little songs or frighten them to another station." With such a sensitive nature it is no wonder that we find contradictions in his poetry. The storm of emotion drives quickly from grave to gay, from high to low. He has written much that ought to be and will be forgotten. But upon the whole, his poetry is elevating in its tone a treasure for which we ought to be thankful. It is the voice of a man who, with all his weakness and sin, was still, in his best moments, honest, manly, penetrating, and powerful.
THE COTTER'S SATURDAY NIGHT.
INSCRIBED TO R. AIKIN, Esq.
"Let not ambition mock their useful toil,
My lov'd, my honour'd, much respected friend!
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,
The lowly train in life's sequester'd scene; The native feelings strong, the guileless ways;
What Aikin in a cottage would have been:
Ah! tho' his worth unknown, far happier there, I ween.
November chill blaws loud wi' angry sugh:
The black'ning trains o' craws to their repose:
The toil-worn cotter frae his labour goes,
This night his weekly moil is at an end,
Collects his spades, his mattocks, and his hoes,
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:
Th' expectant wee-things, toddlin', stacher thro'
To meet their dad, wi' flichterin' noise an' glee.
His wee bit ingle, blinkin' bonnily,
His clean hearth-stane, his thriftie wifie's smile, The lisping infant prattling on his knee,
Does a' his weary, carking cares beguile,
An' makes him quite forget his labour and his toil.
Belyve, the elder bairns come drappin' in,
In youthfu' bloom, love sparklin' in her e'e,
To help her parents dear, if they in hardship be.
Wi' joy unfeign'd, brothers and sisters meet,
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.
They never sought in vain, that sought the Lord aright!”
But hark! a rap comes gently to the door;
To do some errands, and convoy her hame.
Sparkle in Jenny's e'e, and flush her cheek; With heart-struck, anxious care, inquires his name,
While Jenny hafflins is afraid to speak;
Weel pleas'd the mother hears, it's nae wild, worthless rake.
Wi' kindly welcome, Jenny brings him ben:
A strappin' youth; he taks the mother's eye; Blythe Jenny sees the visit's no ill ta'en;
The father cracks of horses, pleughs, and kye. The youngster's artless heart o'erflows wi' joy,
But blate and laithfu’, scarce can weel behave; The mother, wi' a woman's wiles, can spy
What makes the youth sae bashfu' an' sae grave; Weel pleas'd to think her bairn's respected like the lave.
O happy love! where love like this is found!
O heart-felt raptures ! - bliss beyond compare!
'Tis when a youthful, loving, modest pair,
In other's arms, breathe out the tender tale,
Is there, in human form, that bears a heart —