TO JAMES SMITH.
“Friendship! mysterious cement of the soul!
Sweet’ner of life and solder of society!
I owe thee much!–”
The James Smith, to whom this epistle is addressed, was at that time
a small shop-keeper in Mauchline, and the comrade or rather follower of
the poet in all his merry expeditions with “Yill-caup commentators.”
He was present in Poosie Nansie’s when the Jolly Beggars first dawned
on the fancy of Burns: the comrades of the poet’s heart were not
generally very successful in life: Smith left Mauchline, and
established a calico-printing manufactory at Avon near Linlithgow,
where his friend found him in all appearance prosperous in 1788; but
this was not to last; he failed in his speculations and went to the
West Indies, and died early. His wit was ready, and his manners lively
Robert Burns – To James Smith Poem
Dear Smith, the sleest, paukie thief,
That e’er attempted stealth or rief,
Ye surely hae some warlock-breef
Owre human hearts;
For ne’er a bosom yet was prief
Against your arts.
For me, I swear by sun an’ moon,
And ev’ry star that blinks aboon,
Ye’ve cost me twenty pair o’ shoon
Just gaun to see you;
And ev’ry ither pair that’s done,
Mair ta’en I’m wi’ you.
That auld capricious carlin, Nature,
To mak amends for scrimpit stature,
She’s turn’d you aff, a human creature
On her first plan;
And in her freaks, on every feature
She’s wrote, the Man.
Just now I’ve ta’en the fit o’ rhyme,
My barmie noddle’s working prime,
My fancy yerkit it up sublime
Wi’ hasty summon:
Hae ye a leisure-moment’s time
To hear what’s comin’?
Some rhyme a neighbour’s name to lash;
Some rhyme (vain thought!) for needfu’ cash:
Some rhyme to court the countra clash,
An’ raise a din;
For me, an aim I never fash;
I rhyme for fun.
The star that rules my luckless lot,
Has fated me the russet coat,
An’ damn’d my fortune to the groat;
But in requit,
Has blest me with a random shot
O’ countra wit.
This while my notion’s ta’en a sklent,
To try my fate in guid black prent;
But still the mair I’m that way bent,
Something cries “Hoolie!
I red you, honest man, tak tent!
Ye’ll shaw your folly.
“There’s ither poets much your betters,
Far seen in Greek, deep men o’ letters,
Hae thought they had ensur’d their debtors,
A’ future ages:
Now moths deform in shapeless tatters,
Their unknown pages.”
Then farewell hopes o’ laurel-boughs,
To garland my poetic brows!
Henceforth I’ll rove where busy ploughs
Are whistling thrang,
An’ teach the lanely heights an’ howes
My rustic sang.
I’ll wander on, with tentless heed
How never-halting moments speed,
Till fate shall snap the brittle thread;
Then, all unknown,
I’ll lay me with th’ inglorious dead,
Forgot and gone!
But why o’ death begin a tale?
Just now we’re living sound and hale,
Then top and maintop crowd the sail,
Heave care o’er side!
And large, before enjoyment’s gale,
Let’s tak the tide.
This life, sae far’s I understand,
Is a’ enchanted fairy land,
Where pleasure is the magic wand,
That, wielded right,
Maks hours like minutes, hand in hand,
Dance by fu’ light.
The magic wand then let us wield;
For, ance that five-an’-forty’s speel’d,
See crazy, weary, joyless eild,
Wi’ wrinkl’d face,
Comes hostin’, hirplin’, owre the field,
Wi’ creepin’ pace.
When ance life’s day draws near the gloamin’,
Then fareweel vacant careless roamin’;
An’ fareweel cheerfu’ tankards foamin’,
An’ social noise;
An’ fareweel dear, deluding woman!
The joy of joys!
O Life! how pleasant in thy morning,
Young Fancy’s rays the hills adorning!
Cold-pausing Caution’s lesson scorning,
We frisk away,
Like school-boys, at th’ expected warning,
To joy and play.
We wander there, we wander here,
We eye the rose upon the brier,
Unmindful that the thorn is near,
Among the leaves;
And tho’ the puny wound appear,
Short while it grieves.
Some, lucky, find a flow’ry spot,
For which they never toil’d nor swat;
They drink the sweet and eat the fat,
But care or pain;
And, haply, eye the barren hut
With high disdain.
With steady aim some Fortune chase;
Keen hope does ev’ry sinew brace;
Thro’ fair, thro’ foul, they urge the race,
And seize the prey;
Then cannie, in some cozie place,
They close the day.
And others, like your humble servan’,
Poor wights! nae rules nor roads observin’;
To right or left, eternal swervin’,
They zig-zag on;
‘Till curst with age, obscure an’ starvin’,
They aften groan.
Alas! what bitter toil an’ straining–
But truce with peevish, poor complaining!
Is fortune’s fickle Luna waning?
E’en let her gang!
Beneath what light she has remaining,
Let’s sing our sang.
My pen I here fling to the door,
And kneel, “Ye Pow’rs,” and warm implore,
“Tho’ I should wander terra e’er,
In all her climes,
Grant me but this, I ask no more,
Ay rowth o’ rhymes.
“Gie dreeping roasts to countra lairds,
Till icicles hing frae their beards;
Gie fine braw claes to fine life-guards,
And maids of honour!
And yill an’ whisky gie to cairds,
Until they sconner.
“A title, Dempster merits it;
A garter gie to Willie Pitt;
Gie wealth to some be-ledger’d cit,
In cent. per cent.
But give me real, sterling wit,
And I’m content.
“While ye are pleas’d to keep me hale,
I’ll sit down o’er my scanty meal,
Be’t water-brose, or muslin-kail,
Wi’ cheerfu’ face,
As lang’s the muses dinna fail
To say the grace.”
An anxious e’e I never throws
Behint my lug, or by my nose;
I jouk beneath misfortune’s blows
As weel’s I may;
Sworn foe to sorrow, care, and prose,
I rhyme away.
O ye douce folk, that live by rule,
Grave, tideless-blooded, calm and cool,
Compar’d wi’ you–O fool! fool! fool!
How much unlike!
Your hearts are just a standing pool,
Your lives a dyke!
Nae hair-brain’d, sentimental traces,
In your unletter’d nameless faces!
In arioso trills and graces
Ye never stray,
But gravissimo, solemn basses
Ye hum away.
Ye are sae grave, nae doubt ye’re wise;
Nae ferly tho’ ye do despise
The hairum-scarum, ram-stam boys,
The rattling squad:
I see you upward cast your eyes–
Ye ken the road–
Whilst I–but I shall haud me there–
Wi’ you I’ll scarce gang ony where–
Then, Jamie, I shall say nae mair,
But quat my sang,
Content wi’ you to mak a pair,
Whare’er I gang.