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The Best Laid Schemes: Selected Poetry and Prose of Robert Burns

The Best Laid Schemes: Selected Poetry and Prose of Robert Burns

by Robert Crawford (Editor), Robert Burns

From a Scottish as well as an international perspective it is time for a new and wide-ranging selection of Burns's verse aimed both at general readers and Burns aficionados. Newly edited from early printed texts and from manuscripts, The Best Laid Schemes is the only substantial selection of Burns's work in print which has line-by-line glossing of the Scots


From a Scottish as well as an international perspective it is time for a new and wide-ranging selection of Burns's verse aimed both at general readers and Burns aficionados. Newly edited from early printed texts and from manuscripts, The Best Laid Schemes is the only substantial selection of Burns's work in print which has line-by-line glossing of the Scots words. Burns himself added a concluding general glossary to his book, but many modern readers will prefer simply to run their eye along the line for a gloss, rather than having to ferret around at the back of the volume. As well as containing outstanding examples of Burns's prose, this selection also includes some rediscovered verse, printed from manuscript and available in no other editions. The background to this 'new' work is set out in a separate section. Here are Burns's best-loved poems along with a full selection of the work which shows his sheer mastery of form, his political interests, his enthusiasms and loves. Seamus Heaney has written in praise of Burns's 'art speech'. This book aims to help readers attend sympathetically to a masterfully constructed, remarkable, and freshly accessible poetic voice.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Two hundred years after his death, some of Burns's words are even more famous than he is: the words to “Auld Lang Syne,” for example, and the wish “to see oursels as others see us.” Yet the national poet of Scotland had more in him than the international anthology pieces—including radical politics, storytelling, interesting prose, and verse, in Scots and in standard English. This big book makes a case for Burns as a major romantic poet, whose invitations and angers, stanzas and choruses, merit long appreciation now. Some of the prose bears only historical interest, but many lesser-known poems now shine bright—with anger, sarcasm, self-mockery, double entendres: “I like the lasses—Gude forgie me!/ For monie a Plack [coin] they wheedle frae me,/ At dance or fair;/ Maybe some ither thing they gie me/ They weel can spare.” Few poets have more gracefully or comically asked the ladies to give up their honor. Coming in time for the poet's 250th birthday, the collection should surely let poets, and reviewers, try to give this complex, hardworking and musically gifted figure his due. (July)
The Best Laid Schemes . . . is a collection of poetry and prose from Burns's pen that gives the reader far more than the fare to be found in the usual anthology. As well as perennial favourites, there are interesting rediscovered poems that have been ignored or missed by earlier editors. This is an attractively presented collection with a beautifully written introduction to the life and work of the poet. . . . [The editors] have done a great deal to reveal again the charm and complexity of one of the world's greatest ever poets of love.
— Alexander McCall Smith
New York Review of Books
[Robert] Crawford and Christopher MacLachlan have opportunely put together by far the most appealing and important selection of Burns's writing that has appeared to date. The Best Laid Schemes includes not only all the great poems, but also excerpts from letters and other prose writings that illuminate the poet's personality and art. The textual editing is meticulous, Crawford contributes a richly informative introduction, and marginal glosses elucidate any linguistic difficulties. It is beautifully produced, with an unpretentious elegance that Burns would have approved.
— John Carey

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The Best Laid Schemes


Princeton University Press

Copyright © 2009 Robert Crawford and Christopher MacLachlan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-691-14295-1

Chapter One

My Father was a Farmer

My father was a farmer upon the Carrick border O And carefully he bred me, in decency & order O He bade me act a manly part, though I had ne'er a farthing O For without an honest manly heart, no man was worth regarding O Chorus Row de dow &c.

Then out into the world my course I did determine. O Tho' to be rich was not my wish, yet to be great was charming. O My talents they were not the worst, nor yet my education: O Resolv'd was I, at least to try, to mend my situation. O In many a way, & vain essay, I courted fortune's favor; O Some cause unseen, still stept between, & frustrate each endeavor; O Some times by foes I was o'erpower'd, sometimes by friends forsaken; O And when my hope was at the top, I still was worst mistaken. O Then sore harass'd, & tir'd at last, with fortune's vain delusion; O I dropt my schemes, like idle dreams and came to this conclusion; O The past wast bad, & the future hid; its good or ill untryed; O But the present hour was in my pow'r, & so I would enjoy it, O No help, nor hope, nor view had I; nor person to befriend me; O So I must toil, & sweat & moil, & labor to sustain me, O To plough & sow, to reap & mow, my father bred me early, O For one, he said, to labor bred, was a match for fortune fairly, O Thus all obscure, unknown, & poor, thro' life I'm doom'd to wander, O Till down my weary bones I lay in everlasting slumber: O No view nor care, but shun whate'er might breed me pain or sorrow; O I live today as well's I may, regardless of tomorrow, O But chearful still, I am as well as a Monarch in a palace; O Tho' fortune's frown still hunts me down with all her wonted malice: O I make indeed, my daily bread, but ne'er can make it farther; O But as daily bread is all I heed, I do not much regard her. O When sometimes by my labor I earn a little money, O Some unforseen misfortune comes generally upon me; O Mischance, mistake, or by neglect, or my good natur'd folly; O But come what will I've sworn it still, I'll ne'er be melancholy, O All you who follow wealth & power with unremitting ardor, O The more in this you look for bliss, you leave your view the farther; O Had you the wealth Potosi boasts, or nations to adore you, O A chearful honest-hearted clown I will prefer before you. O

To Ruin.

All hail! inexorable lord! At whose destruction-breathing word, The mightiest empires fall! Thy cruel, woe-delighted train, The ministers of Grief and Pain, A sullen welcome, all! With stern-resolv'd, despairing eye, I see each aimed dart; For one has cut my dearest tye, And quivers in my heart. Then low'ring, and pouring, The Storm no more I dread; Tho' thick'ning, and black'ning, Round my devoted head.

And thou grim Pow'r, by Life abhorr'd, While Life a pleasure can afford, Oh! hear a wretch's pray'r! No more I shrink appall'd, afraid; I court, I beg thy friendly aid, To close this scene of care! When shall my soul, in silent peace, Resign Life's joyless day? My weary heart it's throbbings cease, Cold-mould'ring in the clay? No fear more, no tear more, To stain my lifeless face, Enclasped, and grasped, Within thy cold embrace!

The Death and Dying Words of Poor Mailie, The Author's Only Pet Yowe, ewe An Unco Mournfu' Tale extraordinarily

As Mailie, an' her lambs thegither, and; together Was ae day nibbling on the tether, one Upon her cloot she coost a hitch, hoof; cast An' owre she warsl'd in the ditch: over; wriggled There, groaning, dying, she did ly, lie When Hughoc he cam doytan by. came stumbling

Wi' glowrin een, an' lifted han's with glowering eyes; hands Poor Hughoc like a statue stan's; stands He saw her days were near hand ended, But, waes my heart! he could na mend it! woe is; not He gaped wide, but naething spak, nothing spoke At length poor Mailie silence brak. broke

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

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

Tell him, he was a Master kin', kind An' ay was guid to me an' mine; and always; good An' now my dying charge I gie him, give My helpless lambs, I trust them wi' him. with

O, bid him save their harmless lives, Frae dogs an' tods, an' butchers' knives! from; foxes But gie them guid cow-milk their fill, give; good Till they be fit to fend themsel; themselves An' tent them duely, e'en an' morn, tend; duly; evening Wi' taets o' hay an' ripps o' corn. tufts of; handfuls of

An' may they never learn the gaets, ways Of ither vile, wanrestfu' Pets! other; restless To slink thro' slaps, an' reave an' steal, through gaps; rob At stacks o' pease, or stocks o' kail. cole, cabbage So may they, like their great forbears, For monie a year come thro' the sheers: many; shears So wives will gie them bits o' bread, give An' bairns greet for them when they're dead. children weep

My poor toop-lamb, my son an' heir, ram- O, bid him breed him up wi' care! with An' if he live to be a beast, and To pit some havins in his breast! put; manners An' warn him ay at ridin time, always; breeding To stay content wi' yowes at hame; with ewes; home An' no to rin an' wear his cloots, not; run; hooves Like ither menseless, graceless brutes. other ill-bred

An' niest my yowie, silly thing, next; ewe-lamb Gude keep thee frae a tether string! go[o]d; from O, may thou ne'er forgather up, never meet Wi' onie blastet, moorlan toop; any cursed moorland ram But aye keep mind to moop an' mell, always; munch and mingle Wi' sheep o' credit like thysel! yourself

And now, my bairns, wi' my last breath, children I lea'e my blessin wi' you baith: leave; both An' when ye think upo' your Mither, upon; mother Mind to be kind to ane anither. remember; one another

Now, honest Hughoc, dinna fail, do not To tell my Master a' my tale; all An' bid him burn this cursed tether, An' for thy pains thou'se get my blather. you will; bladder

This said, poor Mailie turn'd her head, An' clos'd her een amang the dead! eyes; among

Poor Mailie's Elegy.

Lament in rhyme, lament in prose, Wi' saut tears trickling down your nose; with salt Our Bardie's fate is at a close, [minor] poet's Past a' remead! all remedy The last, sad cape-stane of his woes; cope-stone Poor Mailie's dead!

It's no the loss o' warl's gear, not; of worldly wealth That could sae bitter draw the tear, so Or make our Bardie, dowie, wear dismal The mourning weed: garment He's lost a friend and neebor dear, neighbour In Mailie dead.

Thro' a' the town she trotted by him; through all A lang half-mile she could descry him; long; spot Wi' kindly bleat, when she did spy him, with She ran wi' speed: A friend mair faithfu' ne'er came nigh him, more faithful never Than Mailie dead.

I wat she was a sheep o' sense, know An' could behave hersel wi' mense: with decorum I'll say't, she never brak a fence, broke Thro' thievish greed. Our Bardie, lanely, keeps the spence lonely, sits in the best room Sin' Mailie's dead. since

Or, if he wanders up the howe, valley Her living image in her yowe, ewe Comes bleating till him, owre the knowe, to; over the knoll For bits o' bread; An' down the briny pearls rowe roll For Mailie dead.

She was nae get o' moorlan tips, no offspring; rams Wi' tauted ket, an' hairy hips; tangled fleece For her forbears were brought in ships, Frae 'yont the TWEED. from beyond A bonier fleesh ne'er cross'd the clips prettier fleece never; clippers Than Mailie's dead.

Wae worth that man wha first did shape woe; who That vile, wanchancie thing-a raep! unlucky; rope It maks guid fellows girn an' gape, makes good; grimace Wi' chokin dread; choking An' Robin's bonnet wave wi' crape black mourning ribbons For Mailie dead.

O, a' ye Bards on bonie DOON! all An' wha on AIRE your chanters tune! who; pipes Come, join the melancholious croon moan O' Robin's reed! reed-pipe His heart will never get aboon! recover, get over it His Mailie's dead!


Excerpted from The Best Laid Schemes Copyright © 2009 by Robert Crawford and Christopher MacLachlan . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Ian Duncan
This is an excellent, comprehensive, and authoritative selection of the writings of one of the world's major poets, and it is likely to become the standard edition for general readers and students.
Ian Duncan, University of California, Berkeley

Meet the Author

Robert Crawford is Professor of Modern Scottish Literature at St Andrews University, where his teaching interests include Scottish Literature, Modern and Contemporary Poetry, T. S. Eliot, and Creative Writing. He has taught there since 1989 having previously worked at the universities of Oxford and Glasgow. An acclaimed and award-winning poet in both English and Scots (Sharawaggi, Polygon 1990), Robert is also a highly respected poetry editor. With Simon Armitage he edited The Penguin Book of Poetry from Britain and Ireland since 1945 (1998) and with Mick Imlah The New Penguin Book of Scottish Verse (2000). As the sole editor his work includes New Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (Polygon, 2008), Heaven-Taught Fergusson (Tuckwell, 2003), The Book of St Andrews (Polygon, 2005) and Apollos of the North (Polygon, 2006). Robert is a founding editor of the magazine Verse and has served as a judge for the T. S. Eliot Prize, the National Poetry Competition, amongst others. Christopher MacLachlan is his colleague from the School of English at St Andrews.

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