Jan 31, 2014

POETRY FRIDAY: The poetry of Robert Burns and a Snow Day Poem

Robert Burns (1759-1796) is remembered for his poems about traditional culture, religion, and rural life in his native home of Scotland. Commonly referred to as the Scots Bard, Burns is still known today as the National Poet of Scotland, largely because of the country’s language shift from Scots to English in the 1600s and 1700s.
Since last Saturday (Jan. 25) was his birthday, I thought I’d share a few poems by Burns, beginning with Winter: A Dirge, below. In my area of South Carolina, we saw less than half an inch of snow this week. Although my boys got a snow day out of it on Wednesday (the roads were very icy), and a three-hour delay on Thursday, it was kind of disappointing. But I guess we should consider ourselves lucky—reading this poem reminded me of how very challenging the long, cold winters were in Burns’ Scotland, without the heat, insulation, entertainment options, and other modern technologies we enjoy today. It had to be very difficult to stay positive during long months of being cooped up indoors, as Burns explores here:
Winter: A Dirge                                                         

The wintry west extends his blast,
And hail and rain does blaw;
Or the stormy north sends driving forth
The blinding sleet and snaw:
While, tumbling brown, the burn comes down,
And roars frae bank to brae;
And bird and beast in covert rest,
And pass the heartless day.

"The sweeping blast, the sky o'ercast,"
The joyless winter day
Let others fear, to me more dear
Than all the pride of May:
The tempest's howl, it soothes my soul,
My griefs it seems to join;
The leafless trees my fancy please,
Their fate resembles mine!

Thou Power Supreme, whose mighty scheme
These woes of mine fulfil,
Here firm I rest; they must be best,
Because they are Thy will!
Then all I want-O do Thou grant
This one request of mine!-
Since to enjoy Thou dost deny,
Assist me to resign.
Also a farmer, Burns took many opportunities to share his observations about nature with his audience. This poem about a field mouse captured my attention many years ago, for its imagery, emotion, and colorful Scots vernacular. It remains one of my favorite poems by Burns today:
To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough, November 1785.
Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie,
O' what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
                        Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
                        Wi' murdering pattle.

   I'm truly sorry man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion,
                        Which maks thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion
                        An' fellow mortal!

   I doubt na' whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
                        'S a sma' request:
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,
                        And never miss't!

   Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin!
It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!
An' naething, now, to big a new ane,
                        O' foggage green!
An' bleak December's win's ensuin,
                        Baith snell and keen!

   Thou saw the fields laid bare an' waste,
An' weary winter comin fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
                        Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
                        Out thro' thy cell.

   That wee bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou's turned out, for a' thy trouble,
                        But house or hald,
To thole the winter's sleety dribble,
                        An' cranreuch cauld.

   But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men,
                        Gang aft a-gley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
                        For promis'd joy.

   Still thou are blest, compared wi' me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e'e,
                        On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
                        I guess an' fear!

And finally, in honor of this week’s (barely snowy) snow day, I wrote the following poem to share:
Snow Day
Snow Day!
What snow?
Icy roads--
No go.
Grassy snow,
Green, brown.
Stay home!
Hunker down!
Neighbors north,
Laugh, quip.
Half an inch?
We’ll slip! 
Home safe
Folks stay,
Watching white
Melt away!
The trail behind my house...see what I mean? 
Wherever you are, I hope you are warm and enjoying your winter weather, whatever it may be. Happy writing!


  1. Reading these almost feels exotic, for where I am- the winter is pretending not to be...

  2. Love your poem. Robert Burns' poetry is brilliant too. I love the brogue. And the mouse poem is perfect. I wonder if that's where we get our line "the best laid plans of mice and men." My favorite line from that was:

    I'm truly sorry man's dominion
    Has broken Nature's social union,
    An' justifies that ill opinion,
    Which maks thee startle

  3. Enjoyed your poem and the nice tribute to Burns! Recently I was looking into "To A Mouse" with my son (he needed a poem to recite and we were trying to decide whether it was too hard!) and we found a couple of good videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSAedS8F4OQ and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qCjvKvfJ740

  4. 'Supposedly' we could be getting 12-15 inches of snow next week. Though I'll believe it when I see it! And if so, as long as I've got snacks and books to read, I don't mind being snow bound. Though no snacks and no books would equal no bueno!

  5. Dear Becky,
    I love your snow poem. It was definitely a good description of our snow. It was good to be snuggly warm at home.

    Celebrate you

  6. That was a lovely poem, Becky! Folks up north are hardy, is all I can say. Blizzard conditions ... We'll send you some Carolina sunshine Leandra :) Be safe.

  7. Thanks for all of the wonderful comments! Sorry this is such a belated reply--it is actually supposed to snow "for real" here today! = )


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