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The Castaway, written in March, 1799, was the last poem which Cowper wrote. He was deeply in the thralls of that terrible melancholia which saddened his later years; and the tragic story of this castaway, which he had read in Lord George Anson's Voyage Round the World, had impressed him so deeply that he easily gave it poetic expression, lit with the gloomy fancy of grim realism. Cowper's interest in the story, we may readily believe, was deepened by the symbolism he created. The castaway's fate was his own fate, only he was struggling vainly in the sea of despondency. No divine voice was whispering comfort, no prophetic light was shining-inexorably he was weltering in a rougher sea and being whelmed in a deeper gulf.
LYRICS BY BURNS
LAMENT FOR CULLODEN
It is likely that Collins's Ode Written in 1746 may have been inspired by the same historical events as this poem. The Scottish clansmen in 1745 joined with Prince Charles Edward - "the Young Pretender" -in his contest against George II for the English throne. He won a battle at Preston Pans, near Edinburgh, and then invaded England; but he was soon forced to retreat into Scotland, where he met final defeat the next year at Culloden, near Inverness. It was this campaign which inspired those Jacobite songs, Who'll be King but Charlie? and Over the water to Charlie.
1 Inverness: The famous castle of Inverness
accepted by Shakespeare as the scene of King Duncan's assassination by Macbeth was destroyed in this campaign. 5 Drumossie is another name for Culloden.
13 cruel lord: The reference is probably to the Duke of Cumberland who commanded the Royalists.
The first four lines of this poem were part of an old Scottish song, but the rest is by Burns. The geographical allusions are to places near Edinburgh. The dominating interest is love he wishes to tarry longer, not that he may listen to the roar of the sea or the shouts of war, but that he may longer be with his "bonnie Mary."
THE BANKS O' DOON
There is a longer version of this poem, commencing "Ye banks and braes o' bonnie Doon." The version here printed was sent to Mr. Ballantine, an intimate friend, in 1787.
Burns writes that it is being prepared for sending "while here I sit sad and solitary, by the side of a fire in a little country inn, and drying my wet clothes." The theme is a · the joyous mood of nature contrasting with the sorrowful mood of the writer.
TO A MOUSE
Burns's brother Gilbert writes that this poem was composed while the author was holding the plow. John Blane, a peasant lad, was at the time riding one of the horses as plow-boy. In later years he recalled the incident and said that he had started after the mouse to kill it, but Burns called him back and restrained him. The master stood thoughtfully at the plow for a little time and then went on with his work. Not many days later Burns read his poem to Blane.
With this poem we should compare the companion poem, To a Mountain Daisy. How are they alike? How are they different?
4 bickering brattle: hasty and noisy scamper.
6 pattle: a paddle carried by a plowman to remove the dirt that sticks to the mold-board.
14 maun: must.
15 A daimen-icker in a thrave: an occasional ear of corn in a sheaf.
17 lave: remainder.
20 silly wa's: weak, frail walls.
21 big: build.
22 foggage: a second growth of grass.
24 snell: sharp.
29 coulter: that portion of the plow that cuts the soil. 31 stibble: stubble.
34 But: without.
35 thole: endure.
36 cranreuch: frost.
37 no thy lane: not alone.
40 Gang aft a-gley: go often awry.
The stanzaic form of this poem is interesting. The last two lines of each stanza repeat the metrical form of the two preceding lines and make what is called the "wheel." The scheme is of French origin.
Little is positively known of Mary Morison. As Burns in a letter to Mr. Thompson, his publisher, wrote of this song as one of his juvenile works, it may perhaps be assumed that she was one Mary Morison who lived at Mauchline and died on June 29, 1791, as is duly recorded on a stone in the Mauchline churchyard. Mr. C. S. Dougal in his interesting book, The Burns Country, makes out an in
teresting case for one Ellison Begbie as the original of Mary Morison. The author, however, does not explain the change of name.
Though the passion of the poem is undoubtedly sincere, it must also have been ephemeral, for we hear so little about her in the poems and in the letters.
2 trysted hour: appointed hour for meeting. 5 stoure: dust storm.
13 braw: smart and attractive.
13 scaith: harm.
17 tent: take care of.
18 steer: stir, molest.
The "bonnie Lesley" of this poem was Miss Lesley Bailey whose father lived in Ayrshire. He and his two daughters, before starting on a visit to England, called on Burns, and on their leaving, Burns accompanied them for fifteen miles on horseback. On his return homeward he composed these lines.
O MY LUVE'S LIKE A RED, RED ROSE
This song was not wholly original with Burns; its foundation was a brief poem composed by one Lieutenant Hinches, as a farewell to his sweetheart. A comparison of the two poems will reveal the superior lilting measure of Burns's song.
The avowal of constancy so passionately phrased here was not one of Burns's virtues. The easy abandon with which he turned from one love to another was responsible alike for much sorrow and much joy in his life.
In the Burns Monument at Alloway there are preserved two Bibles which are said to be the gifts which Burns and Mary Campbell exchanged one Sunday, May 14, 1786, that romantic day when they stood on separate banks of a small stream and with clasped hands and earnest vows promised undying fealty to each other. In his letter which accompanied this poem that he was sending to his publisher, he says his " Highland Lassie was a warm-hearted, charming young creature as ever blessed a man with a generous love. After a pretty long tract of the most ardent reciprocal attachment we met by appointment on the second Sunday of May, in a sequestered spot by the banks of the Ayr, where we spent the day in taking farewell, before she should embark for the West Highlands, to arrange matters for our projected change of life. At the close of the autumn following she crossed the sea to meet me at Greenock,
where she had scarce landed, when she was seized with a malignant fever, which hurried my dear girl to the grave in a few days, before I could even hear of her illness." In none of the songs has Burns woven more of beauty, pathos, and tenderness. The reader is surprised, on examination, to note the absence of rime.
2 castle o' Montgomery: On the site of the paternal castle the Montgomeries have built a stately house in the woods through which the Fail flows to join the Ayr. 4 drumlie: muddy. 9 birk: birch.
Burns in sending this poem to his publisher commented upon its absence from sentiment, and added, “The ludicrous is its ruling feature." This observation is of course no disparagement to the poem. While we admire such sentiment as the poct reveals in such a poem as Highland Mary, we find thorough delight in his humorous poems, such as this and Tam o' Shanter.
3 fou: full of liquor.
5 coost: cast, threw.
6 asklent: aslant, askance; unco: uncom commonly; skeigh: offish.
7 gart: made; abeigh: aside.
9 fleech'd: begged.
12 Grat: next; bleert and blin': bleared and blind. 13 lowpin ower a linn: leaping over a waterfall.
14 but a tide: changeable as a tide.
15 sair to bide: loath to endure.
17 hizzie: huzzie a term of reproach. 27 smoor'd: smothered.
28 crouse and canty: jolly and happy.
This poem is addressed to Jean Armour, who after troublous delays and vexations, due in part to Mr. Armour, finally became in 1788 the wife of Robert Burns. There has been much said and written against her, and the poet's affection for her has been questioned, but any one who studies the matter will be impressed with many noble traits in her character, notwithstanding her waywardness and her lack of depth. In estimating her worth one must remember that to be the wife of a man of Burns's temperament and behavior was to have one's nature sorely tried.
1 airts: directions.
2 like the West: At the time Burns wrote this song he was living near Dumfries and Jean was in Ayrshire - to the west.
14 shaw: wood.
25 knowes: low hills.
This is an example among many of Burns's revision of an old song with a stanza beginning:
John Anderson, my Jo, John,
The merry chord of the old song is here tempered to a more pensive strain, and thus more character and more suggestiveness are added to the theme.
a term of familiar affection.
1 jo: sweetheart or lover -
11 canty: happy.