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The Vowels


[Burns admired genius adorned by learning; but mere learning without
genius he always regarded as pedantry. Those critics who scrupled too
much about words he called eunuchs of literature, and to one, who
taxed him with writing obscure language in questionable grammar, he
said, "Thou art but a Gretna-green match-maker between vowels and

'Twas where the birch and sounding thong are ply'd,
The noisy domicile of pedant pride;
Where ignorance her darkening vapour throws,
And cruelty directs the thickening blows;
upon a time, Sir Abece the great,
In all his pedagogic powers elate,
His awful chair of state resolves to mount,
And call the trembling vowels to account.--

First enter'd A, a grave, broad, solemn wight,
But, ah! deform'd, dishonest to the sight!
His twisted head look'd backward on the way,
And flagrant from the scourge he grunted, _ai!_

Reluctant, E stalk'd in; with piteous race
The justling tears ran down his honest face!
That name! that well-worn name, and all his own,
Pale he surrenders at the tyrant's throne!
The pedant stifles keen the Roman sound
Not all his mongrel diphthongs can compound;
And next the title following close behind,
He to the nameless, ghastly wretch assign'd.

The cobweb'd gothic dome resounded Y!
In sullen vengeance, I, disdain'd reply:
The pedant swung his felon cudgel round,
And knock'd the groaning vowel to the ground!

In rueful apprehension enter'd O,
The wailing minstrel of despairing woe;
Th' Inquisitor of Spain the most expert
Might there have learnt new mysteries of his art;
So grim, deform'd, with horrors entering U,
His dearest friend and brother scarcely knew!

As trembling U stood staring all aghast,
The pedant in his left hand clutched him fast,
In helpless infants' tears he dipp'd his right,
Baptiz'd him _eu_, and kick'd him from his sight.

Robert Burns