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A Bard's Epitaph

[This beautiful and affecting poem was printed in the Kilmarnock
edition: Wordsworth writes with his usual taste and feeling about it:
"Whom did the poet intend should be thought of, as occupying that
grave, over which, after modestly setting forth the moral discernment
and warm affections of the 'poor inhabitant' it is supposed to be
inscribed that

'Thoughtless follies laid him low,
And stained his name!'

Who but himself--himself anticipating the but too probable termination
of his own course? Here is a sincere and solemn avowal--a confession
at once devout, poetical, and human--a history in the shape of a
prophecy! What more was required of the biographer, than to have put
his seal to the writing, testifying that the foreboding had been
realized and that the record was authentic?"]


Is there a whim-inspired fool,
Owre fast for thought, owre hot for rule,
Owre blate to seek, owre proud to snool,
Let him draw near;
And owre this grassy heap sing dool,
And drap a tear.

Is there a bard of rustic song,
Who, noteless, steals the crowds among,
That weekly this area throng,
O, pass not by!
But with a frater-feeling strong,
Here heave a sigh.

Is there a man, whose judgment clear,
Can others teach the course to steer,
Yet runs, himself, life's mad career,
Wild as the wave;
Here pause--and, through the starting tear,
Survey this grave.

The poor inhabitant below
Was quick to learn and wise to know,
And keenly felt the friendly glow,
And softer flame,
But thoughtless follies laid him low,
And stain'd his name!

Reader, attend--whether thy soul
Soars fancy's flights beyond the pole,
Or darkling grubs this earthly hole,
In low pursuit;
Know, prudent, cautious self-control,
Is wisdom's root.


Robert Burns


Poetry