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The Death and Dying Words of Poor Mailie







[This tale is partly true; the poet's pet ewe got entangled in her
tether, and tumbled into a ditch; the face of ludicrous and awkward
sorrow with which this was related by Hughoc, the herd-boy, amused
Burns so much, who was on his way to the plough, that he immediately
composed the poem, and repeated it to his brother Gilbert when they
met in the evening; the field where the poet held the plough, and the
ditch into which poor Mailie fell, are still pointed out.]

As Mailie, an' her lambs thegither,
Were ae day nibbling on the tether,
Upon her cloot she coost a hitch,
An' owre she warsl'd in the ditch:
There, groaning, dying, she did lie,
When Hughoc[2] he cam doytin by.
Wi' glowing e'en an' lifted han's,
Poor Hughoc like a statue stan's;
He saw her days were near-hand ended,
But, waes my heart! he could na mend it!
He gaped wide but naething spak--
At length poor Mailie silence brak.

"O thou, whose lamentable face
Appears to mourn my woefu' case!
My dying words attentive hear,
An' bear them to my master dear.

"Tell him, if e'er again he keep
As muckle gear as buy a sheep,
O bid him never tie them mair
Wi' wicked strings o' hemp or hair!
But ca' them out to park or hill,
An' let them wander at their will;
So may his flock increase, and grow
To scores o' lambs, an' packs of woo'!

"Tell him he was a master kin'
An' ay was gude to me an' mine;
An' now my dying charge I gie him,
My helpless lambs, I trust them wi' him.

"O, bid him save their harmless lives
Frae dogs, and tods, an' butchers' knives!
But gie them guid cow-milk their fill,
Till they be fit to fend themsel;
An' tent them duly, e'en an' morn,
Wi' teats o' hay, an' ripps o' corn.

"An' may they never learn the gaets
Of ither vile, wanrestfu' pets!
To sink thro' slaps, an' reave an' steal
At stacks o' pease, or stocks o' kail.
So may they, like their great forbears,
For monie a year come thro' the sheers;
So wives will gie them bits o' bread,
An' bairns greet for them when they're dead.

"My poor toop-lamb, my son an' heir,
O, bid him breed him up wi' care;
An' if he live to be a beast,
To pit some havins in his breast!
An' warn him what I winna name,
To stay content wi' yowes at hame
An' no to rin an' wear his cloots,
Like ither menseless, graceless brutes.

"An' niest my yowie, silly thing,
Gude keep thee frae a tether string!
O, may thou ne'er forgather up
Wi' ony blastit, moorland toop,
But ay keep mind to moop an' mell
Wi' sheep o' credit like thysel!

"And now, my bairns, wi' my last breath
I lea'e my blessin wi' you baith:
An' when you think upo' your mither,
Mind to be kind to ane anither.

"Now, honest Hughoc, dinna fail
To tell my master a' my tale;
An' bid him burn this cursed tether,
An', for thy pains, thou'se get my blather."

This said, poor Mailie turn'd her head,
And clos'd her een amang the dead.


[Footnote 2: A neibor herd-callan.]

Robert Burns