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Man Was Made to Mourn

A DIRGE.

[The origin of this fine poem is alluded to by Burns in one of his
letters to Mrs. Dunlop: "I had an old grand-uncle with whom my mother
lived in her girlish years: the good old man was long blind ere he
died, during which time his highest enjoyment was to sit and cry,
while my mother would sing the simple old song of 'The Life and Age of
Man.'" From that truly venerable woman, long after the death of her
distinguished son, Cromek, in collecting the Reliques, obtained a copy
by recitation of the older strain. Though the tone and sentiment
coincide closely with "Man was made to Mourn," I agree with Lockhart,
that Burns wrote it in obedience to his own habitual feelings.]


When chill November's surly blast
Made fields and forests bare,
One ev'ning as I wandered forth
Along the banks of Ayr,
I spy'd a man whose aged step
Seem'd weary, worn with care;
His face was furrow'd o'er with years,
And hoary was his hair.

"Young stranger, whither wand'rest thou?"
Began the rev'rend sage;
"Does thirst of wealth thy step constrain,
Or youthful pleasure's rage?
Or haply, prest with cares and woes,
Too soon thou hast began
To wander forth, with me to mourn
The miseries of man.

"The sun that overhangs yon moors,
Out-spreading far and wide,
Where hundreds labour to support
A haughty lordling's pride:
I've seen yon weary winter-sun
Twice forty times return,
And ev'ry time had added proofs
That man was made to mourn.

"O man! while in thy early years,
How prodigal of time!
Misspending all thy precious hours,
Thy glorious youthful prime!
Alternate follies take the sway;
Licentious passions burn;
Which tenfold force gives nature's law,
That man was made to mourn.

"Look not alone on youthful prime,
Or manhood's active might;
Man then is useful to his kind,
Supported in his right:
But see him on the edge of life,
With cares and sorrows worn;
Then age and want--oh! ill-match'd pair!--
Show man was made to mourn.

"A few seem favorites of fate,
In pleasure's lap carest:
Yet, think not all the rich and great
Are likewise truly blest.
But, oh! what crowds in every land,
All wretched and forlorn!
Thro' weary life this lesson learn--
That man was made to mourn.

"Many and sharp the num'rous ills
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves,
Regret, remorse, and shame!
And man, whose heaven-erected face
The smiles of love adorn,
Man's inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!

"See yonder poor, o'erlabour'd wight,
So abject, mean, and vile,
Who begs a brother of the earth
To give him leave to toil;
And see his lordly fellow-worm
The poor petition spurn,
Unmindful, though a weeping wife
And helpless offspring mourn.

"If I'm design'd yon lordling's slave--
By Nature's law design'd--
Why was an independent wish
E'er planted in my mind?
If not, why am I subject to
His cruelty or scorn?
Or why has man the will and power
To make his fellow mourn?

"Yet, let not this too much, my son,
Disturb thy youthful breast;
This partial view of human-kind
Is surely not the best!
The poor, oppressed, honest man
Had never, sure, been born,
Had there not been some recompense
To comfort those that mourn!

"O Death! the poor man's dearest friend--
The kindest and the best!
Welcome the hour, my aged limbs
Are laid with thee at rest!
The great, the wealthy, fear thy blow,
From pomp and pleasure torn!
But, oh! a blest relief to those
That weary-laden mourn."

Robert Burns


Poetry