Epistle to a Young Friend. May, 1786

Epistle to a Young Friend. May, 1786
I lang hae thought, my youthfu’ friend,
	A Something to have sent you,
Tho’ it should serve nae other end
	Than just a kind memento;
But how the subject theme may gang,
	Let time and chance determine;
Perhaps it may turn out a Sang;
	Perhaps, turn out a Sermon.

Ye’ll try the world soon my lad,
	And Andrew dear believe me,
Ye’ll find mankind an unco squad,
	And muckle they may grieve ye;
For care and trouble set your thought,
	Ev’n when your end’s attained;
And a’ your views may come to nought,
	Where ev’ry nerve is strained.

I’ll no say, men are villains a’;
	The real, harden’d wicked,
Wha hae nae check but human law,
	Are to a few restricked:
But Och, mankind are unco weak,
	An’ little to be trusted;
If Self the wavering balance shake,
	It’s rarely right adjusted!

Yet they wha fa’ in Fortune’s strife,
	Their fate we should na censure,
For still th’ important end of life,
	They equally may answer:
A man may hae an honest heart,
	Tho’ Poortith hourly stare him;
A man may tak a neebor’s part,
	Yet hae nae cash to spare him.

Ay free, aff han’, your story tell,
	When wi’ a bosom crony;
But still keep something to yoursel
	Ye scarcely tell to ony.
Conceal yoursel as weel’s ye can
	Frae crtitical dissection;
But keek thro’ ev’ry other man,
	Wi’ sharpen’d, sly inspection.

The sacred lowe o’ weel plac’d love,
	Luxuriantly indulge it;
But never tepmt th’ illicit rove,
	Tho’ naething should divulge it:
I wave the quantum o’ the sin;
	The hazard of concealing;
But Och! it hardens a’ within,
	And petrifies the feeling!

To catch Dame Fortune’s golden smile,
	Assiduous wait upon her;
And gather gear by ev’ry wile,
	That justify’d by Honor:
Not for to hide it in a hedge,
	Not for a train-attendant;
But for the glorious privilege
	Of being independent.

The fear o’ Hell’s a hangman’s whip,
	To haud the wretch in order;
But where ye feel your Honour grip,
	Let that ay be your border:
It’s slightest touches, instant pause—
	Debar a’ side-pretences;
And resolutely keep its laws,
	Uncaring consequences.

The great Creator to revere,
	Must sure become the Creature;
But still the preaching cant forbear:
	And ev’n the rigid feature:
Yet ne’er with Wits prophane to range,
	Be complaisance extended;
An atheist-laugh’s a poor exchange
	For Deity offended!

When ranting round in Pleasure’s ring,
	Religion may be blinded;
Or if she gie a random-fling,
	It may be little minded;
But when on Life we’re tempest-driven,
	A Conscience but a canker—
A correspondence fix’d wi’ Heav’n,
	Is sure a noble anchor!

Adieu, dear, amiable Youth!
	Your heart can ne’er be wanting!
May Prudence, Fortitude and Truth
	Erect your brow undaunting!
In ploughman phraseGod send you speed,’
	Still daily to grow wiser;
And may ye better reck the rede,
	Than ever did th’ Adviser!
Robert Burns
Robert Burns

If ever a poet understood the character of his nation, he was Robert Burns. The language he was most fluent in wasn’t so much Scots or English – it was the language of the heart. All too human in his personal life, he carried that humanity over onto the page. Nothing was too small or too large to escape his notice, from a mouse in the mud to God in his heavens. A poet for all seasons, Burns speaks to all, soul to soul.

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