Monday, 14 April 2008

Robert Burns and the pet sheep Mailie

Robert Burns' poems concerning animals are charming constructions and full of poetic wisdom. Poet-in-Residence may not be able to appreciate the wonderful words on the zen speug (see P-i-R link to zen speug) level but he does his level best to do so. Poems like 'The Twa Dogs, A Tale', 'The Auld Farmer's New-Year-Morning Salutation to his auld Mare, Maggie, on giving her the accustomed Ripp of Corn to hansel in the New Year', 'To a Mouse - On turning her up in her Nest with the Plough, November, 1785', 'To a Louse - On seeing one on a Lady's Bonnet at Church' are a delight to the ear. The last mentioned poem contains those memorable lines: O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us / To see oursels as others see us! (O would some power the small gift give us / to see ourselves as others see us!). P-i-R has taken the liberty of 'translating' some parts of the following poem into a rough sort of English. He hopes that Robert Burns (1759-1796), the pet sheep Mailie and zen speug will forgive him this presumption.

Poor Mailie's Elegy

Lament in rhyme, lament in prose,
With salt tears trickling down your nose;
Our poet's fate is at a close,
Past remedy!
The last, sad coping-stone of his woes;
Poor Mailie's dead!

It's not the loss of worldly property,
That could so bitter draw the tear,
Or make our poet, sadly wear
The mourning weeds:
He's lost a friend and neighbour dear,
In Mailie dead.

Through all the town she trotted by him;
A long half-mile she could descry him;
With kindly bleat, when she did spy him,
She ran with speed:
A friend more faithful never came near him,
Than Mailie dead.

I know she was a sheep of sense,
And could behave herself discreetly:
I'll say it, she never broke a fence,
Through thievish greed.
Our poet, lonely, keeps indoors,
Since Mailie's dead.

Or, if he wanders up the valley,
Her living image in her ewe,
Comes bleating to him, as you'd know,
For bits of bread; it's all too much
And down the briny pearls roll
For Mailie dead.

She was no offspring of moorland rams
With matted fleece, and hairy hips;
For her forbears were brought in ships,
From beyond the Tweed*:
And finer fleece never crossed the shears
Than Mailie's dead.

Woe to that man who first did shape,
That vile, unlucky thing - a rope!
It makes good fellows twist and rage,
With choking dread;
And Robin's bonnet wave with crape
For Mailie dead.

Oh, all you poets on bonny Doon*!
And what on Aire* your chanters tune!
Come, join the melancholy croon
Of Robin's reed!
His heart will never get above!
His Mailie's dead!

*Tweed, Doon, Aire - names of rivers

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