Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

The Twa Dogs


A TALE.

[Cromek, an anxious and curious inquirer, informed me, that the Twa
Dogs was in a half-finished state, when the poet consulted John
Wilson, the printer, about the Kilmarnock edition. On looking over the
manuscripts, the printer, with a sagacity common to his profession,
said, "The Address to the Deil" and "The Holy Fair" were grand things,
but it would be as well to have a calmer and sedater strain, to put at
the front of the volume. Burns was struck with the remark, and on his
way home to Mossgiel, completed the Poem, and took it next day to
Kilmarnock, much to the satisfaction of "Wee Johnnie." On the 17th
February Burns says to John Richmond, of Mauchline, "I have completed
my Poem of the Twa Dogs, but have not shown it to the world." It is
difficult to fix the dates with anything like accuracy, to
compositions which are not struck off at one heat of the fancy. "Luath
was one of the poet's dogs, which some person had wantonly killed,"
says Gilbert Burns; "but CŠsar was merely the creature of the
imagination." The Ettrick Shepherd, a judge of collies, says that
Luath is true to the life, and that many a hundred times he has seen
the dogs bark for very joy, when the cottage children were merry.]


Twas in that place o' Scotland's isle
That bears the name o' Auld King Coil,
Upon a bonnie day in June,
When wearing through the afternoon,
Twa dogs that were na thrang at hame,
Forgather'd ance upon a time.
The first I'll name, they ca'd him CŠsar,
Was keepit for his honour's pleasure;
His hair, his size, his mouth, his lugs,
Show'd he was nane o' Scotland's dogs;
But whalpit some place far abroad,
Where sailors gang to fish for cod.

His locked, letter'd, braw brass collar
Show'd him the gentleman and scholar;
But though he was o' high degree,
The fient a pride--nae pride had he;
But wad hae spent an hour caressin',
Ev'n wi' a tinkler-gypsey's messin'.
At kirk or market, mill or smiddie,
Nae tawted tyke, though e'er sae duddie,
But he wad stan't, as glad to see him,
And stroan't on stanes and hillocks wi' him.

The tither was a ploughman's collie,
A rhyming, ranting, raving billie,
Wha for his friend an' comrade had him,
And in his freaks had Luath ca'd him,
After some dog in Highland sang,[59]
Was made lang syne--Lord know how lang.

He was a gash an' faithful tyke,
As ever lap a sheugh or dyke.
His honest, sonsie, baws'nt face,
Ay gat him friends in ilka place.
His breast was white, his touzie back
Weel clad wi' coat o' glossy black;
His gaucie tail, wi' upward curl,
Hung o'er his hurdies wi' a swirl.

Nae doubt but they were fain o' ither,
An' unco pack an' thick thegither;
Wi' social nose whyles snuff'd and snowkit,
Whyles mice and moudiewarts they howkit;
Whyles scour'd awa in lang excursion,
An' worry'd ither in diversion;
Until wi' daffin weary grown,
Upon a knowe they sat them down,
And there began a lang digression
About the lords o' the creation.

CĂSAR.

I've aften wonder'd, honest Luath,
What sort o' life poor dogs like you have;
An' when the gentry's life I saw,
What way poor bodies liv'd ava.

Our laird gets in his racked rents,
His coals, his kain, and a' his stents;
He rises when he likes himsel';
His flunkies answer at the bell;
He ca's his coach, he ca's his horse;
He draws a bonnie silken purse
As lang's my tail, whare, through the steeks,
The yellow letter'd Geordie keeks.

Frae morn to e'en its nought but toiling,
At baking, roasting, frying, boiling;
An' though the gentry first are stechin,
Yet even the ha' folk fill their pechan
Wi' sauce, ragouts, and sic like trashtrie,
That's little short o' downright wastrie.
Our whipper-in, wee, blastit wonner,
Poor worthless elf, eats a dinner,
Better than ony tenant man
His honour has in a' the lan';
An' what poor cot-folk pit their painch in,
I own it's past my comprehension.

LUATH.

Trowth, CŠsar, whyles they're fash't eneugh
A cotter howkin in a sheugh,
Wi' dirty stanes biggin' a dyke,
Baring a quarry, and sic like;
Himself, a wife, he thus sustains,
A smytrie o' wee duddie weans,
An' nought but his han' darg, to keep
Them right and tight in thack an' rape.

An' when they meet wi' sair disasters,
Like loss o' health, or want o' masters,
Ye maist wad think a wee touch langer
An' they maun starve o' cauld and hunger;
But, how it comes, I never kenn'd yet,
They're maistly wonderfu' contented:
An' buirdly chiels, an' clever hizzies,
Are bred in sic a way as this is.

CĂSAR.

But then to see how ye're negleckit,
How huff'd, and cuff'd, and disrespeckit!
L--d, man, our gentry care as little
For delvers, ditchers, an' sic cattle;
They gang as saucy by poor folk,
As I wad by a stinking brock.

I've notic'd, on our Laird's court-day,
An' mony a time my heart's been wae,
Poor tenant bodies, scant o' cash,
How they maun thole a factor's snash:
He'll stamp an' threaten, curse an' swear,
He'll apprehend them, poind their gear;
While they maun stan', wi' aspect humble,
An' hear it a', an' fear an' tremble!

I see how folk live that hae riches;
But surely poor folk maun be wretches!

LUATH.

They're no sae wretched's ane wad think;
Tho' constantly on poortith's brink:
They're sae accustom'd wi' the sight,
The view o't gies them little fright.
Then chance an' fortune are sae guided,
They're ay in less or mair provided;
An' tho' fatigu'd wi' close employment,
A blink o' rest's a sweet enjoyment.

The dearest comfort o' their lives,
Their grushie weans, an' faithfu' wives;
The prattling things are just their pride,
That sweetens a' their fire-side;
An' whyles twalpennie worth o' nappy
Can mak' the bodies unco happy;
They lay aside their private cares,
To mind the Kirk and State affairs:
They'll talk o' patronage and priests;
Wi' kindling fury in their breasts;
Or tell what new taxation's comin',
And ferlie at the folk in Lon'on.

As bleak-fac'd Hallowmass returns,
They get the jovial, ranting kirns,
When rural life, o' ev'ry station,
Unite in common recreation;
Love blinks, Wit slaps, an' social Mirth
Forgets there's Care upo' the earth.

That merry day the year begins,
They bar the door on frosty win's;
The nappy reeks wi' mantling ream,
An' sheds a heart-inspiring steam;
The luntin pipe, an sneeshin mill,
Are handed round wi' right guid will;
The cantie auld folks crackin' crouse,
The young anes rantin' thro' the house,--
My heart has been sae fain to see them,
That I for joy hae barkit wi' them.

Still it's owre true that ye hae said,
Sic game is now owre aften play'd.
There's monie a creditable stock
O' decent, honest, fawsont folk,
Are riven out baith root and branch,
Some rascal's pridefu' greed to quench,
Wha thinks to knit himsel' the faster
In favour wi' some gentle master,
Wha aiblins, thrang a parliamentin',
For Britain's guid his saul indentin'--

CĂSAR.

Haith, lad, ye little ken about it!
For Britain's guid! guid faith, I doubt it!
Say rather, gaun as Premiers lead him,
An' saying, aye or no's they bid him,
At operas an' plays parading,
Mortgaging, gambling, masquerading;
Or may be, in a frolic daft,
To Hague or Calais takes a waft,
To mak a tour, an' tak' a whirl,
To learn _bon ton_, an' see the worl'.

There, at Vienna or Versailles,
He rives his father's auld entails;
Or by Madrid he takes the rout,
To thrum guitars, an' fecht wi' nowt;
Or down Italian vista startles,
Wh--re-hunting amang groves o' myrtles
Then bouses drumly German water,
To mak' himsel' look fair and fatter,
An' clear the consequential sorrows,
Love-gifts of carnival signoras.
For Britain's guid!--for her destruction
Wi' dissipation, feud, an' faction.

LUATH.

Hech, man! dear sirs! is that the gate
They waste sae mony a braw estate!
Are we sae foughten an' harass'd
For gear to gang that gate at last!

O, would they stay aback frae courts,
An' please themsels wi' countra sports,
It wad for ev'ry ane be better,
The Laird, the Tenant, an' the Cotter!
For thae frank, rantin', ramblin' billies,
Fient haet o' them's ill-hearted fellows;
Except for breakin' o' their timmer,
Or speakin' lightly o' their limmer,
Or shootin' o' a hare or moor-cock,
The ne'er a bit they're ill to poor folk.

But will ye tell me, Master CŠsar,
Sure great folk's life's a life o' pleasure?
Nae cauld or hunger e'er can steer them,
The vera thought o't need na fear them.

CĂSAR.

L--d, man, were ye but whyles whare I am,
The gentles ye wad ne'er envy 'em.

It's true, they needna starve or sweat,
Thro' winters cauld, or simmer's heat;
They've nae sair wark to craze their banes,
An' fill auld age wi' grips an' granes:
But human bodies are sic fools,
For a' their colleges and schools,
That when nae real ills perplex them,
They mak enow themsels to vex them;
An' ay the less they hae to sturt them,
In like proportion, less will hurt them.

A country fellow at the pleugh,
His acres till'd, he's right eneugh;
A country girl at her wheel,
Her dizzen's done, she's unco weel:
But Gentlemen, an' Ladies warst,
Wi' ev'n down want o' wark are curst.
They loiter, lounging, lank, an' lazy;
Tho' deil haet ails them, yet uneasy;
Their days insipid, dull, an' tasteless;
Their nights unquiet, lang an' restless;
An' even their sports, their balls an' races,
Their galloping thro' public places,
There's sic parade, sic pomp, an' art,
The joy can scarcely reach the heart.
The men cast out in party matches,
Then sowther a' in deep debauches;
Ae night they're mad wi' drink and wh-ring,
Niest day their life is past enduring.
The Ladies arm-in-arm in clusters,
As great and gracious a' as sisters;
But hear their absent thoughts o' ither,
They're a' run deils an' jads thegither.
Whyles, o'er the wee bit cup an' platie,
They sip the scandal potion pretty;
Or lee-lang nights, wi' crabbit leuks
Pore owre the devil's pictur'd beuks;
Stake on a chance a farmer's stack-yard,
An' cheat like onie unhang'd blackguard.

There's some exception, man an' woman;
But this is Gentry's life in common.

By this, the sun was out o' sight,
An' darker gloaming brought the night:
The bum-clock humm'd wi' lazy drone;
The kye stood rowtin i' the loan;
When up they gat, and shook their lugs,
Rejoic'd they were na men, but dogs;
An' each took aff his several way,
Resolv'd to meet some ither day.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 59: Cuchullin's dog in Ossian's Fingal.]


Robert Burns


Poetry