242. The Poet's Progress
THOU, Nature, partial Nature, I arraign;
Of thy caprice maternal I complain.
The peopled fold thy kindly care have found,
The hornèd bull, tremendous, spurns the ground;
The lordly lion has enough and more,
The forest trembles at his very roar;
Thou giv’st the ass his hide, the snail his shell,
The puny wasp, victorious, guards his cell.
Thy minions, kings defend, controul devour,
In all th’ omnipotence of rule and power:
Foxes and statesmen subtle wiles ensure;
The cit and polecat stink, and are secure:
Toads with their poison, doctors with their drug,
The priest and hedgehog, in their robes, are snug:
E’en silly women have defensive arts,
Their eyes, their tongues—and nameless other parts.
But O thou cruel stepmother and hard,
To thy poor fenceless, naked child, the Bard!
A thing unteachable in worldly skill,
And half an idiot too, more helpless still:
No heels to bear him from the op’ning dun,
No claws to dig, his hated sight to shun:
No horns, but those by luckless Hymen worn,
And those, alas! not Amalthea’s horn:
No nerves olfact’ry, true to Mammon’s foot,
Or grunting, grub sagacious, evil’s root:
The silly sheep that wanders wild astray,
Is not more friendless, is not more a prey;
Vampyre-booksellers drain him to the heart,
And viper-critics cureless venom dart.
Critics! appll’d I venture on the name,
Those cut-throat bandits in the paths of fame,
Bloody dissectors, worse than ten Monroes,
He hacks to teach, they mangle to expose:
By blockhead’s daring into madness stung,
His heart by wanton, causeless malice wrung,
His well-won ways-than life itself more dear—
By miscreants torn who ne’er one sprig must wear;
Foil’d, bleeding, tortur’d in th’ unequal strife,
The hapless Poet flounces on through life,
Till, fled each hope that once his bosom fired,
And fled each Muse that glorious once inspir’d,
Low-sunk in squalid, unprotected age,
Dead even resentment for his injur’d page,
He heeds no more the ruthless critics’ rage.
So by some hedge the generous steed deceas’d,
For half-starv’d, snarling curs a dainty feast;
By toil and famine worn to skin and bone,
Lies, senseless of each tugging bitch’s son.
· · · · · · A little upright, pert, tart, tripping wight,
And still his precious self his dear delight;
Who loves his own smart shadow in the streets,
Better than e’er the fairest she he meets;
Much specious lore, but little understood,
(Veneering oft outshines the solid wood),
His solid sense, by inches you must tell,
But mete his cunning by the Scottish ell!
A man of fashion too, he made his tour,
Learn’d “vive la bagatelle et vive l’amour;”
So travell’d monkeys their grimace improve,
Polish their grin-nay, sigh for ladies’ love!
His meddling vanity, a busy fiend,
Still making work his selfish craft must mend.
· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · Crochallan came,
The old cock’d hat, the brown surtout—the same;
His grisly beard just bristling in its might—
’Twas four long nights and days from shaving-night;
His uncomb’d, hoary locks, wild-staring, thatch’d
A head, for thought profound and clear, unmatch’d;
Yet, tho’ his caustic wit was biting-rude,
His heart was warm, benevolent and good.
· · · · · · O Dulness, portion of the truly blest!
Calm, shelter’d haven of eternal rest!
Thy sons ne’er madden in the fierce extremes
Of Fortune’s polar frost, or torrid beams;
If mantling high she fills the golden cup,
With sober, selfish ease they sip it up;
Conscious the bounteous meed they well deserve,
They only wonder “some folks” do not starve!
The grave, sage hern thus easy picks his frog,
And thinks the mallard a sad worthless dog.
When disappointment snaps the thread of Hope,
When, thro’ disastrous night, they darkling grope,
With deaf endurance sluggishly they bear,
And just conclude that “fools are Fortune’s care:”
So, heavy, passive to the tempest’s shocks,
Strong on the sign-post stands the stupid ox.
Not so the idle Muses’ mad-cap train,
Not such the workings of their moon-struck brain;
In equanimity they never dwell,
By turns in soaring heaven, or vaulted hell!
by Robert Burns
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