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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Cotter’s Saturday Night

By Robert Burns (1759–1796)

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,

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;

The shortening winter day is near a close;

The miry beasts retreating frae the pleugh;

The blackening trains o’ craws to their repose;

The toil-worn Cotter frae his labor goes;

This night his weekly moil is at an end;

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;

The 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,

Does a’ his weary carking cares beguile,

An’ makes him quite forget his labor an’ his toil.

Belyve the elder bairns come drapping in,

At service out, amang the farmers roun’;

Some ca’ the pleugh, some herd, some tentie rin

A cannie errand to a neebor town.

Their eldest hope, their Jenny, woman grown,

In youthfu’ bloom, love sparkling in her e’e,

Comes hame, perhaps, to shew a braw new gown,

Or deposit her sair-won penny-fee,

To help her parents dear, if they in hardship be.

Wi’ joy unfeigned brothers and sisters meet,

An’ each for other’s weelfare kindly speirs:

The social hours, swift-winged, unnoticed fleet;

Each tells the uncos that he sees or hears:

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.

Their masters’ an’ their mistresses’ command,

The yonkers a’ are warnèd to obey;

An’ mind their labors wi’ an eydent hand,

An’ ne’er, though out o’ sight, to jauk or play:

“An’ O! be sure to fear the Lord alway!

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;

Jenny, wha kens the meaning o’ the same,

Tells how a neebor 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;

With heart-struck anxious care, inquires his name,

While Jenny hafflins is afraid to speak:

Weel pleased, the mother hears it’s nae wild, worthless rake.

Wi’ kindly welcome Jenny brings him ben,

A strappan youth; he taks the mother’s eye;

Blithe 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 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,

And sage experience bids me this declare:—

“If Heaven a draught of heavenly pleasure spare,

One cordial in this melancholy vale,

’Tis when a youthful, loving, modest pair,

In other’s arms breathe out the tender tale,

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?

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?

But now the supper crowns their simple board,

The halesome parritch, chief o’ Scotia’s food:

The soupe their only Hawkie does afford,

That ’yont the hallan snugly chows her cood:

The dame brings forth in complimental mood,

To grace the lad, her weel-hained kebbuck, fell,

An’ aft he’s prest, an’ aft he ca’s it guid;

The frugal wifie, garrulous, will tell,

How ’twas a towmond auld, sin’ lint was i’ the bell.

The cheerfu’ supper done, wi’ serious face,

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 rev’rently is laid aside,

His lyart haffets wearing thin an’ bare;

Those strains that once did sweet in Zion glide,

He wales a portion wi’ 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:

Perhaps ‘Dundee’s’ wild warbling measures rise,

Or plaintive ‘Martyrs,’ worthy of the name;

Or noble ‘Elgin’ beets the heavenward flame,

The sweetest far of Scotia’s holy lays:

Compared with these, Italian trills are tame;

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

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:

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:

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.

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,

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,

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;

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:

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,

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,

“An honest man’s the noblest work of God:”

And certes, 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 human kind,

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!

And oh! 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.

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,

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!