The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

January 25, 2014

January 25, 1759

Robert Burns (January 25, 1759 to July 21, 1796), is the reason we are Scottish on January 25. Not because of haggis, but to celebrate the joy of high spirits and human genius which can sprout anywhere, like wildflowers in the meadow of history.

Here is Burns answering the question: what is happiness. Let's pause over his words. I put a rough gloss beneath each line. The lines are part of a verse titled "Poem on Life", dated 1796. I don't know how that date relates to when this was written.

0 what a canty warld were it,
[Wouldn't it be a cheerful world]

Would pain, and care, and sickness spare it ; 

[Without pain and worries and sickness in it;]

And fortune favour worth and merit, 
[And what if fortune favored those of worth and merit]

   As they deserve :
[according to their actions]

(And aye a rowth,‘ roast beef and claret;
[Then with a bit of beef and claret]

     Syne, wha. wad starve?)
[ who would complain.)]

 Dame Life, though fiction out may trick her,
[Life may appear different than she is]

And in aste gems and fripp‘ry deck her;
[if dressed  in cheap jewels;]

Oh! fllick’rin , feeble, and unsicker
[When shifting ,weak and unsteady]

    I ‘ve found her still,
[She may be found]

Aye wav'ring like the willow wicker,
[waving like a small willow]

    ’Tween good and ill.
[between good and bad]

Then that curst carmagnole, auld Satan,
old Satan, that damn French musician,]

Watches, like baudrons by a rattan
[watches like a rat watches cats]

Our sinfu’ saul to get a claut on
[To grab our sinful soul]

     Wi’ felon ire;
[When we are angry;]

Syne, whip ! his tail ye’ll ne’er cast saut on,—
[And then his tail whips too fast to see]

     He's afl' like fire.
[He's quicker than fire]

Ah Nick! ah Nick ! it is na fair,
[Oh Devil, it is not fair]

First showing us the tempting ware,
[First you show us the tempting merchandise]

Bright wines and bonnie lasses rare, 
[Sparkling drink and beautiful women]

     To put us daft ;
[To make us crazy;]

Syne  weave, unseen, thy spider snare
[then weave unseen your spider trap]

    0' hell’s d—d waft.
[of hell's damned web]

Poor man, the flie, aft bizzes by, 
[And poor man, like a fly, comes through it]

The Complete Poetical Works of Robert Burns: With a Glossary and Life of the Author (1849) is at Google books. The glossary starts on page 515

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