Burns Centenary Poems.

TRING: History About Library Contact TRING: Home

Up Biography Poetry Prose Reviews News Reports Miscellanea Site Search


The Burns Centenary
Poetry Competition.








ALL through the realm a single cry
    Is heard unanimously raised,—
Pledge ROBERT BURNS'S memory,
    And let his honoured name be praised!

Unite, and meet, with one accord,
    To swell and propagate his fame,
And stand beside the festive board
    To drink a bumper to his name!

The palace, hall, and mansion ring
    With one long hearty acclamation;
And church bells peal, as for a king,
    In triumph to his coronation.

And so thou art a king indeed,
    New crown'd this day that thou wert born;
In life thou did'st not get thy meed
    Of praise, for "man was made to mourn."

Whatever were thy faults, thy heart
    Was deep with love and tenderness,
And never lived thy counterpart
    For unaffected manliness.

So kindly and so sweetly sad,
    So animated, bright, and strong—
How many hearths hast thou made glad
    With thy incomparable song?

Ah! could thy shadow this day roam,
    And come, like Banquo, as a guest,
And flash thro' space, from home to home,
    A glow would kindle in thy breast,

To see that mix'd and swaying mass,
    By all those wonders new to thee,
Within that mighty span of glass,
    Vibrating to thy minstrelsy.

From this to scenes of waste and snow—
    The lonely shepherd in his plaid,
Deep melancholy, breathing low
    "To Mary, dear departed shade."

And, further still, to lands unknown,
    And undiscovered in thy time,
The home-sick wanderer will own
        Thy "daisy" blows in any clime.



[Top of page]


A HUNDRED Years!    Does that recurring chime
Sound strange to those who "take no note of Time?"
While to the young such slow-returning day
Seems but a seal Time sets upon Decay.

Yea, it hath sealed Decay!    From ruined walls,
More hoar, more moss-grown, many a fragment falls;
Churchyards, where once the passionate mourners wept,
Keep but faint trace of where their loved ones slept;
On war-fields, cursed by many a dying groan,
The partridge builds her nest, the corn is sown;
And for fierce clarions of a hostile throng
Lo! children's laughter, and the reaper's song!
Huge forest oaks are gone whose age was told
By palsied grandsires linked with "days of old;"
The windlestrae waves bare where once they stood,
And slender saplings screen a thinner wood.
CHANGE is around us!    Change, whose busy spade
Lends the old sexton, Time, his younger aid;
And, with a brisk ambition, buries all
Which Death can silence, or Decay enthrall.
What do they bury?    Men.    They hide away
Dead hearts, that moulder in the kindred clay;
But something yet survives from sire to son—
Death cannot bury what those men have done.
The holy Creed which vanished lips have taught—
The Freedom which the Patriot's blood hath bought—
The keen invention of some vigorous mind
Which gleaned from Science gifts for all mankind—
The plans Philanthropy at length matured
To lessen griefs by weaker souls endured—
These are not Death's! nor Death's the POET'S SONG!
Vainly the centuries shall roll along.
Vainly the generations disappear—
That Life had sap that springs from year to year!
Who strikes one chord of Nature's music true
Fills the void world with echoes ever new:
Men listened who are gone, but still the sound
Gathers the newer generations round;
And the one thought of one man's brief bright morn
Fathers the thoughts of men as yet unborn;
Leaves them a younger life when his departs-
Heritors of his claim on human hearts.

A Hundred Years!    When twice that time has sped, 
Fresh be the music of the vanished dead!
Could we count up—instead of years—the souls
Which, through such years, poetic power controls,
By vaguest millions could they reckoned be,
Or by thy sands, thou world-encroaching sea?
Count but one Poet—count the myriad throngs
That echo BURNS'S words, and BURNS'S Songs;
How many hearts have read with honest pride,
That "man's a man" with wealth and rank denied?
How many, woo'd, through him, their "Bonnie Jean?"
How many, mourned their "Mary" in his strain?
How many, lingered o'er the Arcadian light
That made the "Cottar's Saturday" seem bright?
How many, felt with martial ardour filled,
Hearing his "Scots wha hae" by music thrilled?
How many tears have dropped like ocean brine,
When clasping hands have hallowed "Auld Lang Syne?"
We know not! but the thoughts that poets have
(Heaven's part in them) can fill no earthly grave;
Thought is man's soul, and lives beyond his time,
Immortal—even when clothed in simplest rhyme;
Like beacon-fires that shone in days of yore,
Onward they shoot, and gather more and more,
Still waking, as they pass from mind to mind,
An answering light to lights long left behind.
Nor let us murmur that such fire must be
Made of the dead boughs of an earthly tree,
For flickering flames alone to earth are given,
The lights that moveless shine are set in heaven.
Poet and man (not angel), "earth to earth!"
Dead are thy days of sorrow and of mirth;
Dead, the quick passionate heart whose pulse beat full,
In different measure from the cold and dull.
And dead are all thy faults!    The reckless jest,
Born of a baffled hope and sad unrest—
Love's wild delights that fevered every vein—
Wit's careless words from an excited brain—
Thirst for the laurel-wreath disdain might grudge—
And warm temptations, which the untempted judge,
Who "know not what's resisted"—these are gone:
Bury their memory 'neath his funeral stone;
Let the long summers seal them in repose;
Let the drear winters blot them with their snows;
And own him one of those great Master-minds,
Set in all stations—made of various kinds—
But howsoever made, raised from our ken
Above the level of more common men.
We are blind judges.    HE shall judge who lends
The various talents for mysterious ends.
What though perverted sight can quick descry
The mote that blurs a brother's kindling eye?
Enough for us to hope—enough to know
The gift of genius is God's gift below.
In what to us seem wavering sparks, may lurk
Fire that yet glows to do the Maker's work:
And minor discords in the Poet's song
May teach a lesson, though we learn it wrong.

All cannot tread alike who onward climb
Through the wild passes of the untracked Time,
Nor all keep patient heart and patient speech,
While mountain tops still top the heights they reach.
Paths set with flowers some tempted feet delay—
Brakes, rough with thorns, the weaker wanderer stay—
And wistful pauses of discouraged rest
Come to the wisest, bravest, strongest, best,
Who see, with mournful eyes of fond regret,
The "meliora latent," latent yet.
Enough for us, whatever flaw man sees,
The retrograde is not for feet like these;
The aggregate of thought in sentient man
Hath burst the gloom, and struggled to the van;
And though a varying strength may arm the host,
Their heavenly standard never can be lost.
"Onwards!" is written there in gleams of light;
The watchword of a still unfinished fight,
Whose wrestling strength shall yet prevail, and be
Crowned in heaven's breaking dawn, with victory!

A Hundred Years!    When this day comes again,
Scarce one of all now living will remain.
Some infant, born even while I write this rhyme,
Perchance shall linger out that stretch of time,
And all the elder of each meeting throng
Be dead like him—the Master of sweet song!
Within the circuit of those hundred years
Eyes that are weeping shall be sealed from tears;
Hearts that beat now, shall rest—no records tell
The strong temptations under which they fell;
And women's prayers of yearning wild appeal,
To bid the men who "loved" them try to feel,
Shall grate no more; but, garnered up in heaven,
Find gentler answer than on earth was given.
But Master still of Time, dead BURNS shall be—
His words still watchwords for the brave and free
His songs still love songs to the young and fond—
His fame still linking with the time beyond.
Much hath been lost within the vanished years,
But not HIS power o'er human smiles and tears;
And when the Hundredth Year again returns,
More shall be lost—but not the name of BURNS.



[Top of page]



        THRICE manly BURNS!
Where Fame's abruptest crag-horns thrust on high
Pierce the deep azure of o'er-arching sky,
                And rake the drifting cloud;
    A wondering and a loving nation yearns
With upward eye toward thine achievement proud-
                Far—far aloft discerns,
            Hazed in blue atmosphere,
        The scarped heights sublime
        Thy spirit could climb—
            By giant grasp of conscious powers,
        And dint of lordly will that knew not fear—
            Marking thy marvellous way,
        On scar brows sheer,
With random wreaths of rock-born flowers,
    Heather and mountain ferns,
        From jut and crevice wrung-
        In breathing pauses strung-
        In careless haste uphung
                For ever and a day
        Above the reach of time!
There needs no stamp to credit Nature's gold;
    Untarnished lustre still its title clears,
And what is greatly human grows not old:
A hundred years have rolled
        Over thy birth;
An age, most big with movement manifold,
    Studding the front of heaven with new-found spheres;
        Scarring the earth
    With graves of empires cold;
        And mountain birth
    Of swift subsiding anarchies. Behold,
High o'er the channels of the changeful years,
        Ringeth thine inextinguishable mirth:
    Fresh, as from central fires by age unchilled,
        Gush the perennial fountains of thy tears:—
True genius best bears witness of its truth,
By a divine eternity of youth.

Oh! born beneath a bright but frosty star,
    On the dead level of a peasant's fate;
O'erfrowned by bulwark, battlement and bar,
    Of slowly piled prestige—the pomp and state
        Of mounded ages slow—
            We know thee, great!
            We view thee from afar,
                Where, long ago,
        Thy sudden stress of power
        Upreared a vantage tower,
    Swift overtopping all those ramparts low—
    Strongholds of petty pride, and pygmy war
        On which thou could'st look down and smile to know
            The puny scope of Envy's sling-stone shower!
    Let us not whining mourn
        Thine adverse lot;
                Nor cry,
    "Oh hadst thou but been born
    Of Fortune less forlorn,
        What marvels hadst thou wrought!"
Viewing God's government with eye askance;
    No bruised reed he breaks—
        No human circumstance
        Is left to sport of chance:
    God rules each life he makes,
        Its triumphs and its stains;
        Each destiny he ordains;
    Tempers all throbs and aches
        Of mortal joys and pains,
    With wisdom that o'ertakes
        Its purpose.    Mercy reigns.

Interpreter between the low and high!
        Thou gav'st a voice most sweet
        To the long smothered beat
Of a mute world-wide heartache. The pent sigh
    Of the unlettered many in that sound
            World utterance found.
                Thou madest glow
With tingling wonder lordly ears refined,
        Hymning equality in joy and woe-
        Brotherhood in each thrill, and throb, and throe
Of thought and sense and spirit, to all mankind.
            Brave heartener of the low
            From thy vexed life we know,
                However Fortune frown,
        Her storm-clouds cannot blind
Eyes which God broadly opens in the mind
    Of genius—nor her minions overthrow
                And trample down
The right divine to royal manhood's crown.

We are but feeble folk, Oh fellow-men!
    Cast of incongruous stuff, and full of flaws:
Angels of light, and monsters of the den,
    Alike claim kindred with us! All the laws
Of our existence, one huge tangle seem,
And inconsistency their code supreme;

Earth a dark riddle—life a wandering dream.

        Planted deep in human clay,
            Seeds of good and evil spring-
            Tangled root and tendril cling:
        Grappling closer day by day
        Root to root, and spray to spray,
            Wax side by side
        Flower and weed from kindred seed
            With mingled growth;
Blossom and fruit of good and evil deed—
            Base and noble pride-
            Love with lust allied-
                Energy with greed-
            Humility and sloth.

        Who hath his eye so single,
            Life's riddle to unravel,
        Where truth and error jingle—
        Where show and substance mingle
           Through all man's toil and travail?
        The prophet lifts the veil from heavenly things,—
        Of human truth the keen-eyed poet sings—
    All flaunting tawdry tinsel-broidered skirts
        Of vain pretence, with scorn aside he flings,
    Trappings and gauds that cumber Nature's plan,
    And, as some grand old sculpture Phidian,
                In hero-stamp asserts
    The naked athlete majesty of man.

Genius is manhood of a richer colour,
    Of passion deeper, inspiration higher:
We all feel like emotions, only duller,
    As ferment is a lower grade of fire.
Plain coal, or purest crystal-carbon jewel,
    Strong flame must turn all mortal stuff to ashes:
Misfortune's keen blast, urges pregnant fuel;—
    From dark brief stormy lives thus genius flashes.
No stronger strain of feebler wit can ape it-
    Vainly ambitious dullards patch and garble-
Howe'er the patient plasterer grind and scrape it,
    Scagliola fain would be, but is not, marble.

And yet the rusty needle thrown aside,
                (Whether it broke
Its point upon the beggar's ragged cloak,
    Or emperor's ermined coronation robe)
            Still needs must feel,
                In conscious pride,
            From head to heel,
Its own mute polar sympathies allied
    To the vibrations of the fine-poised steel
    That trembles to reveal
The deep magnetic secret of the globe.

Oh BURNS! in strength and weakness still a type
    Of Titan manhood—we, thy feebler kin,
View thee triumphant in the pinching gripe
    Of penury; undazzled in the din
            And blaze of sudden fame;
                Though touched with sin,
            As all men must be,—in thy troubled soul
    Truth writhed untainted still. Thy praise and blame
    Are medicine to our baser pride and shame.
    A man of men, O BURNS! thou didst depart,
    Leaving thy great life on a nation's heart,
                        Never to fade or pine:
Well might a sunset glow of glory fall
                    Around thy pall!
    And now, long since thy tropic day is done;
                A luminous pyramid, zodiacal
Of human worth, though starred with lights divine,
    Doth nobly bear high witness that thy sun,
Shorn of its spots, elsewhere doth bravely shine!


[Top of page]


THEY err who say the years roll on;
    They err who say they die;
They rest immortal 'neath God's throne—
    'Tis we who hurry by;
The worlds that will be, and that were,
Will find them, and have found them there.

For do not years, like stars, burn out
    From what we name the past,
And do not men, in nations, shout
    In the weird light they cast;
Knowing the glory and the flame;
Some grand old poet's deathless fame?

Oh, there be ages wrapt in night,
    Where heroes reigned and fought,
Where love's lamp burned, as ever bright,
    And sages starved and thought;
Upon their brows no crown of song
Reveals them 'mid the radiant throng.

But that old year of which we wot,
    Will ever gleam afar;
To freeman, lover, bard—who not?
    A bright peculiar star:
And all who suffer want or wrong,
Shall look on it and straight be strong.

Our sires,—they were a noble band!
    Stout at the chase and bowl;
True to their word, and free of hand;
    But, oh, the world of soul—
We would not wrong them, when we say
'Twas dark and narrow in their day.

Perhaps their statesmen were not knaves,
    Their sovereign was divine—
It is enough that men were slaves
    When dawned their Fifty-nine:
Is it enough, as wind or sea,
Our Fifty-nine beholds us free?

Oh, no! as one our spirits move,
    Our shouts leap loud and long;
This day we hail the Bard we love,
    Our Burns—the King of Song;
For why? the fire lit in his soul
Is freedom's star from pole to pole!

Go teach the slave to sing his lay,
    Then chain him—he who can;
Tyrant! his spirit spurns thy sway:
    Away—the thing's a man!
The chain and cloud alike are riven—
His soul is free, and bounds toward heaven!

All honour to the Bard, who, grand
    In native minstrel might,
Taught, with the plough-hilt in his hand,
    To thrones the rule of right,
Proclaiming all who bear life's load,
Brothers—no less—before our God.

Our sires in many a civil fray,
    Wrote, free-born, in their gore,
Bold was their front on battle day,
    But when the strife was o'er,—
We would not wrong them, when we say
They bow'd too low to gods of clay.

Burns sang, and oh, the change! when true
    We honour rank, but now
We own a glory in the dew
    Upon a peasant's brow—
In man, a rank unborn of birth;
A grandeur which is not of earth!

We cry, God save the Queen! and lo,
    Shouts burst from every heart!
And why? because her people know
    The wife and mother's part
Have never, for a moment, been
Forgotten in the state of Queen.

Burns! in its gloom and glory wreath'd
    Had thy Life touched our day,
God save the Queen! thy soul had breath'd
    Through ages in thy lay;
For sense, and truth, and worth to thee,
Made sacred high or low degree.

Oh Bard, by Nature's soul empower'd
    To paint her varying forms,
The three sweet sisters, beauty dower'd,
    And Winter breathing storms;
Swift was thy touch, but Nature's eyes
Glowed while she, watched thy pictures rise.

Lo, morn in hue eternal glows,
    Pale dewdrops gem the plain,
White in the vale the hawthorn grows
    Perennial in thy strain;
And ever where its boughs are flung,
Love whispers in a purer tongue.

Oh, Love, until he woke his lyre,
    No native voice had'st thou;
Lewd ditties mocked thy mild desire,
    Or crimson'd thy chaste brow,
But from his manly soul did spring,
Strains thy pure lips can smile and sing.

Oh glorious Bard, with souls elate,
    And vision touched by love,
We pierce the darkness of thy fate,
    And see thee crowned above:—
For who around their brows have twined
Heaven's wreath, save those who love mankind?

Let bigots clasp an iron creed,
    Let faith's fires zealots fan,—
He cannot love his God in deed
    Who spurns his fellow-man:
Thy love encompassed, like a ring,
Man, from the peasant to the king.

All hail, immortal Bard, no more
    Thy fate demands a tear—
Thou art not dead, but gone before:
    'Twas dust that press'd the bier!
Thy soul is with us, and defies
Blank death:—the poet never dies!

Oh, while there breathes a race dare leap,
    Strong in the wrath of men,
The harvest of the wrong'd to reap,
    On mountain or in glen,
Though it be with the price of breath
Sped in worst form of patriot death;

Or, while there beats a heart has borne
    A petty tyrant's yoke,
Feeling—one wild throb of its scorn
    And the foul thing is broke!
Yet, awed by love of wife or child,
Has hugged the burning curse and smiled;

While breathes a man who, 'neath night's star,
    Has mourned love's sweet tie riven;
Has strained his eyes where smiled afar
    His Mary shrined in heaven—
Has breathed his soul through stars and night,
Where smiled her spirit shrined in light;

Yes! while these are, and in our sky
    Star gleams and Sun returns,
Stout hearts shall shout with flashing eye,
    All hail to ROBERT BURNS!—
Shall shout till echo back returns
The peal of soul,—all hail to BURNS!

[Previous page]