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O, bid our vain endeavours cease,
Revive the just designs of Greece,
Return, in all thy simple state!
Confirm the tales her sons relate!
The Cotter's Saturday Night.
INSCRIBED TO ROBERT AIKEN, ESQ.
Let not ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear, with a disdainful smile,
The short and simple annals of the poor.
My loved, my honoured, 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 labour 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 and glee.
His wee-bit ingle blinkin' bonnilie,
His clean hearth-stane, his thriftie wifie's smile,
The lisping infant prattling on his knee,
Does a' his weary kiaugh and care beguile,
An' makes him quite forget his labour 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 show a braw new gown,
Or deposite her sair-won penny-fee,
To help her parents dear, if they in hardship be.
With joy unfeigned, brothers an' sisters meet,
And each for other's weelfare kindly spiers;
The social hours, swift-winged, unnoticed fleet;
Each tells the unco's that he sees or hears;
The parents, partial, eye their hopeful years;
Anticipation forward points the view.
The mother, wi' her needle and her sheers,
Gars auld claes look amaist as weel 's the new ;
The father mixes a' wi' admonition due.
Their master's and their mistress's command,
The younkers a' are warned to obey;
An' mind their labours wi' an eydent hand,
An' ne'er, though out o' sight, to jauk or play;
"An' oh! 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, an' 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 heart-felt 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,
"T is 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 honour, 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 sowp 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-hain'd kebbuck fell,
An' aft he 's pressed, an' aft he ca's it guid;
The frugal wifie, garrulous, will tell,
How 't was 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 reverently is laid aside,
His lyart haffets wearing thin an' bare;
Those strains that once did sweet in Zion glide,
He wales a portion with 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 beats the heavenward flame,
The sweetest far of Scotia's holy lays :
Compared with these, Italian trills are tame:
The tickled ears no heart-felt 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;