Home  »  Volume XI: English THE PERIOD OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION  »  § 10. The Christis Kirk stave

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

X. Burns

§ 10. The Christis Kirk stave

Next to the six-line stave in rime couée, the favourite stave of Ramsay, Fergusson and other poets of the revival was what may be termed the Christis Kirk stave, which, though probably the invention of the author of that poem and of Peblis to the Play, is also, the metre of what—from a reference of Sir David Lyndsay—must be regarded as a very old poem, Sym and his Brudir, and is used by Alexander Scott in his Justing and Debait. It is formed by the addition of a bobwheel to the old ballad octave in rollicking metre as represented in, for example, The Hunting of the Cheviots, and Henryson’s Robene and Makyne. Burns, like Ramsay and Fergusson, contracted the bobwheel into a refrain of one line; but, unlike Ramsay, he did not vary the ending of the refrain. He uses the stave for five pieces: The Holy Fair, Halloween, The Ordination, A Dream and The Mauchline Wedding and for a recitativo in The Jolly Beggars. In Halloween and in The Jolly Beggars recitativo, the final word of the refrain is “night”; in the others, it is “day.” In A Dream, The Ordination and the recitativo, he, like Ramsay, adheres to the ancient two-rime form of the octave; but, in The Holy Fair, Halloween and The Mauchline Wedding, he follows Fergusson in breaking up the octave and making use of four and, occasionally, three, rimes. A Dream is really a series of advices, mostly couched in semi-satirical or jocular terms, but, notwithstanding some clever epigrams, it must, on the whole, be reckoned of that order of merit to which most of his political, or semi-political pieces belong. The Ordination has been already referred to. Like it, the other three—as in the case of Christis Kirk and other old poems, as well as those of the revival—are humorously descriptive narratives. The Mauchline Wedding is unfinished; The Holy Fair and Halloween, as presentations of scenes and episodes in humble life, rank, almost, with The Jolly Beggars and Tam o’ Shanter, though they lack the full inspiration and irresistible verve of both.