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The Brigs of Ayr:

A Poem.1

Inscribed to JOHN BALLANTINE, Esq., Ayr.

THE simple Bard, rough at the rustic plough,
Learning his tuneful trade from ev'ry bough;
The chanting linnet, or the mellow thrush,

Hailing the setting sun, sweet, in the green thorn bush ;
The soaring lark, the perching red-breast shrill,

Or deep-ton'd plovers grey, wild-whistling o'er the hill;
Shall he nurst in the peasant's lowly shed,

To hardy independence bravely bred,

By early poverty to hardship steel'd,

And train'd to arms in stern Misfortune's field—

Shall he be guilty of their hireling crimes,
The servile, mercenary Swiss of rhymes ?
Or labour hard the panegyric close,

With all the venal soul of dedicating prose?
No! though his artless strains he rudely sings,
And throws his hand uncouthly o'er the strings,
He glows with all the spirit of the Bard,
Fame, honest fame, his great, his dear reward.
Still, if some patron's gen'rous care he trace,
Skill'd in the secret to bestow with grace;
When Ballantine befriends his humble name,
And hands the rustic stranger up to fame,
With heartfelt throes his grateful bosom swells,
The godlike bliss, to give, alone excels.

'Twas when the stacks get on their winter hap," And thack and rape secure the toil-won crap;

a covering.

1 Probably composed in SeptemberOctober 1786; a new bridge was being built at Ayr, when Mr Ballantine, a local banker, was Dean of Guild. Burns's inspiration is Fergusson's "Dialogue of the Plainstanes and the Causeway." In an undated letter of

b thatch and rope.

Burns to Mr Aiken he expresses regret that, being unable to publish a second edition of his poems at Kilmarnock, he cannot insert "The Brigs."

An early draft of the poem gives some various readings and additional lines, which are noted below.

Potatoe-bings are snuggèd up frae skaithb
O' coming Winter's biting, frosty breath;
The bees, rejoicing o'er their summer toils,
Unnumber'd buds an' flow'rs' delicious spoils,
Seal'd up with frugal care in massive waxen piles,
Are doom'd by Man, that tyrant o'er the weak,
The death o' devils, smoor'd wi' brimstone reek:
The thundering guns are heard on ev'ry side,
The wounded coveys, reeling, scatter wide;
The feather'd field-mates, bound by Nature's tie,
Sires, mothers, children, in one carnage lie:
(What warm, poetic heart but inly bleeds,
And execrates man's savage, ruthless deeds!)
Nae mair the flow'r in field or meadow springs,
Nae mair the grove with airy concert rings,
Except perhaps the Robin's whistling glee,
Proud o' the height o' some bit half-lang tree:
The hoary morns precede the sunny days,

Mild, calm, serene, wide spreads the noontide blaze,
While thick the gossamour waves wanton in the rays.

'Twas in that season, when a simple Bard,
Unknown and poor-simplicity's reward!-
Ae night, within the ancient brugha of Ayr,
By whim inspir'd, or haply prest wi' care,
He left his bed, and took his wayward route,
And down by Simpson's1 wheel'd the left about:
(Whether impell'd by all-directing Fate,
To witness what I after shall narrate: 2
Or whether, rapt in meditation high,

He wander'd out, he knew not where or why :)
The drowsy Dungeon-clock had number'd two,
And Wallace Towers had sworn the fact was true:
The tide-swoln firth, with sullen-sounding roar,
Through the still night dash'd hoarse along the shore
⚫ heaps.

b harm.

1 A noted tavern at the Auld Brig end.-R. B.

2 The MS. adds:'Or penitential pangs for former sins Led him to rove by quondam Merran


c smothered.

d burgh.

8 The two steeples.-R. B. The first was connected with the Old Jail, now removed, and the other was an antique erection in the High Street, now replaced by an elegant tower so named.


All else was hush'd as Nature's closed e'e;
The silent moon shone high o'er tower and tree;
The chilly frost, beneath the silver beam,
Crept, gently-crusting, o'er the glittering stream-

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When, lo! on either hand the list'ning Bard,
The clanging sugh of whistling wings is heard;1
Two dusky forms dart through the midnight air,
Swift as the gos2 drives on the wheeling hare;
Ane on th' Auld Brig his airy shape uprears,
The other flutters o'er the rising piers:
Our warlock Rhymer instantly descried
The Sprites that owre the Brigs of Ayr preside.
(That Bards are second-sighted is nae joke,
And ken the lingo of the sp'ritual folk;


Fays, Spunkies, Kelpies, a', they can explain them,
And even the very deils they brawly ken them).
'Auld Brig' appear'd of ancient Pictish race,
The very wrinkles Gothic in his face;
He seem'd as he wi' Time had warstl'de lang,
Yet, teughly doure,d he bade an unco bang.
'New Brig' was buskit' in a braw new coat,
That he, at Lon'on, frae ane Adams got;
In 's hand five taper staves as smooth 's a bead,
Wi' virls and whirlygigums at the head.
The Goth was stalking round with anxious search,
Spying the time-worn flaws in every arch;
It chanc'd his new-come neibor took his e'e,
And e'en a vexed and angry heart had he!
Wi' thieveless sneer to see his modish mien,
He, down the water, gies him this guid-e'en :—



'I doubt na, frien', ye'll think ye're nae sheepshank,'
Ance ye were streekit1 owre frae bank to bank!

⚫rushing sound. b very well know.

• stood a wondrous stroke.

h spiteful.

1" When lo! before our wond'ring een,

• wrestled. í dressed. mean thing. Bardie's


d stubborn.

8 rings and fancy ornaments. J stretched.

The Brigs of Ayr's twa sprites are


2 The Gos-hawk, or Falcon.-R.B.

But gin ye be a brig as auld as me

Tho' faith, that date,1 I doubt, ye'll never see-
There'll be, if that day1 come, I'll wad a boddle,"
Some fewer whigmaleeries in your noddle.'


'Auld Vandal! ye but show your little mense,"
Just much about it wi' your scanty sense:
Will your poor, narrow foot-path of a street,
Where twa wheel-barrows tremble when they meet,2
Your ruin'd, formless bulk o' stane and lime,
Compare wi' bonie brigs o' modern time?

There's men of taste wou'd tak the Ducat stream,3
Tho' they should cast the very sarkd and swim,
E'er they would grate their feelings wi' the view
O' sic an ugly, Gothic hulk as you.'


'Conceited gowk !e puff'd up wi' windy pride!
This mony a year I've stood the flood an' tide;
And tho' wi' crazy eild' I'm sair forfairn,g
I'll be a brig when ye're a shapeless cairn!
As yet ye little ken about the matter,
But twa-three winters will inform ye better.
When heavy, dark, continued, a'-day rains,
Wi' deepening deluges o'erflow the plains;
When from the hills where springs the brawling Coil,
Or stately Lugar's mossy fountains boil;

Or where the Greenock winds his moorland course.
Or haunted Garpal draws his feeble source,
Aroused by blustering winds an' spotting thowes,h
In mony a torrent down the snaw-broo rowes ;1
c manners. d shirt.
• idiot.
1 melted snow-rolls.

a small coin (2 pennies Scots).
8 worn out.

fold age.

b crotchets.

1 Date and day were transposed in the edition of 1794.

2 These two lines are wanting in the

MS., and the next begins :

"Will your auld, formless, &c." A noted ford, just above the Auld Brig.-R.B.

h thaws.

4 The banks of Garpal Water is one of the few places in the West of Scotland where those fancy-scaring beings known by the name of Ghaists, still continue pertinaciously to inhabit.R.B.



While crashing ice, borne on the rolling spate,"
Sweeps dams, an' mills, an' brigs, a' to the gateb;
And from Glenbuck, down to the Ratton-key,2
Auld Ayr is just one lengthen'd, tumbling sea-
Then down ye'll hurl, (deil nor ye never rise!)
And dash the gumlie jaups up to the pouring skies!
A lesson sadly teaching, to your cost,


That Architecture's noble art is lost!'8


'Fine architecture, trowth, I needs must say't o't,
The L-d be thankit that we've tint the gate® o't!
Gaunt, ghastly, ghaist-alluring edifices,

Hanging with threat'ning jut like precipices;
O'er-arching, mouldy, gloom-inspiring coves,
Supporting roofs, fantastic, stony groves;
Windows and doors in nameless sculptures drest,
With order, symmetry, or taste unblest;
Forms like some bedlam Statuary's dream,
The craz'd creations of misguided whim;
Forms might be worshipp'd on the bended knee,
And still the second dread command be free;
Their likeness is not found on earth, in air, or sea!
Mansions that would disgrace the building taste
Of any mason reptile, bird or beast:

• flood.

• way.

Fit only for a doited' monkish race,

Or frosty maids forsworn the dear embrace,
Or cuifs of later times, wha held the notion,
That sullen gloom was sterling true devotion:
Fancies that our guid Brugh denies protection,
And soon may they expire, unblest wi' resurrection!


"O ye, my dear-remember'd, ancient yealings,
but here to share my wounded feelings!

Were ye

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1 The source of the River Ayr.-R.B. 2 A small landing place above the large quay.-R.B.

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