To Robert Fergusson

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Fergusson, tho twa-hunder year
awa, your image is mair clear
nor monie things that nou appear
in braid daylicht.
What gars perspective turn sae queer?
What ails my sicht?

Pairtlie, nae dout, because your een
gey clearlie saw the Embro scene
in times when Embro was a quean
sae weill worth seein
that life wi her still had a wheen
guid things worth preein.

A hameil, Scottish place eneuch,
whas life was steiran, het and reuch
whilst yet the fairmer wi his pleuch
turned owre the sod
whar classie Queen Street and Drumsheugh
nou stand sae snod.

But what a pairtner for your life!
Gey like a weill-bred, cantie wife
wha wears an apron, no cauldrife
wi fause gentilitie,
wi mind keen-edgit as a knife,
used wi civilitie.

In ae gret tenement or land,
a muckle rubble biggin, planned
to hain grund-rent, folk wad be fand
aa mixter-maxter –
lordies and lawyers, no owre grand
to ken a baxter

or Ramsay wi his curlin-tangs,
guid makar baith of wigs and sangs,
or, Fergusson, yoursel; sae lang's
ye werena blate,
they were your friens, whatever bangs
were sair'd by fate.

Altho to tred a lawyer's hack
peyed by the bodle or the plack
for screivin till your wrists wad crack,
baith ear and late,
yet of guid friens ye had nae lack
in ilk estait.

The 'Cape's' self-knichted cavaliers
'Sir Scrape-Greystiel' and siclike fiers,
thay waled ye weill abune their peers
for cannie capers
whaun ye'd got throu, wi nae arrears,
your stent of papers.

Hou gleglie they'd kick owre the traces
in the Daft Days or at Leith Races,
wi trips to Fife or siccan places
to stech their leisor
wi drouthie ploys, while plookie faces
birslit wi pleisor.

And what a knack ye had of screivin
in caller verse yon rowth of levin,
your wee stane warld, fechtin, theivin,
drinkin and swinkin,
wi muckle fun and puckle greivin
and fowth of thinkin.

In praise of Wilkie ye declared
his verses wad be aye revered
while slaw-gaun owsen turned the swaird;
nou ither factors
hae shown the doctor gey ill-sair'd –
we dae't wi tractors.

But this I'll say: while there's a still
in Scotland, or a pint of yill,
houever washie, fit to swill
atween the tide
at Leith Port and the Blackford Hill,
your fame sall byde.

Whan Daith raxed out his airm and cleikit
Ramsay, folk thocht the yett was steekit,
yet sune your makar's burgess-ticket
gied ye the freedom
of Scottish verse, in whilk were eikit
baith hert and smeddum.

For ye had at your fingernebs
real levan words to weave your webs
of sound and sense, of smiles and slebs,
while Embro callants
ne'er thocht to runkle up their nebs
at guid braid Lallans.

And yet, owre surelie did ye ken
guid Scots wad mak bad Englishmen
whan owre faur South they keekit ben
and sune were smitten,
tho barelie three-score years and ten
had seen Great Britain.

South-keekin Scots gaed skellie-ee'd
and tuke it in their tawpie-heid
to hae their bairns Anglified
and gar their stiff tongues
transmogrifie their Lallan leid
frae vowels to diphthongs.

Of Heriot's or Watson's ghaist
of yours, I wonder whilk is maist
dumbfounert, dozent and bumbazed
wi indignation
to see our modern Embro taste
in education.

We may jalouse George Watson's banes
will gowl the maist wi greislie maens
nou that his schule for puirtith's weans,
foundit sae weill,
chairges sic fees and taks sic pains
to be genteel.

No that I'd had a bodie think
our toun's the waur of bein perjink
in some weys; Embro's famous stink
is banish'd nou;
gane are the shouts, that garred ye jink,
of "Gardyloo!"

Our fulyie's puisonit the Firth
and caused, I dout, an unco dearth
of thae Pandores of muckle girth
ye thocht sae fair;
what wad ye think our gain was worth?
I'm no that shair.

Auld Reekie's bigger, nou, what's mair,
and folk wha hae the greater share
of warldlie gear may tak the air
in Morningside,
and needna sclim the turnpike stair
whar ye wad byde.

But truth is, our couthie city
has cruddit in twa pairts a bittie
and speaks twa tongues, ane coorse and grittie,
heard in the Cougait,
the tither copied, mairs the pity,
frae west of Newgate.

Whilk is the crudd and whilk the whey
I wad be kinna sweirt to say,
but this I ken, that of the twae
the corruptit twang
of Cougait is the nearer tae
the leid ye sang.

Thir days, whan cities seem unreal
to makars, inwit gars us feel
fause as the hauf-inch marble peel
in Princes Street
whaur new shop-fronts wad shame the Deil
wi their deceit.

A conter, we've some rotten riggin
of ratton-eaten Cougait biggin
that heard langsyne the skeelie jiggin
of your new verse.
Hard-pressed, I wale yon airt to dig in
and micht dae worse.

Our life's a bogle-hauntit dream
owre thrang wi wirrikows to seem
quite real; our fun a fireflaucht-gleam
whang'd throu a nicht
of gurliewhirkies huge and breme,
loppert wi fricht.

Ye gaed about in guid braid claith
wi fient a thocht of want or skaith,
in howffs at hy-jinks never laith
to blaw your chanter,
syne in cursed Darien's bedlam, Daith
wrocht your mishanter.

What gart ye break throu reason's ice?
Compared wi ye, we're no sae wyce.
Maybe we're yaised wi madness; vice
and lust for pouer
bring furth some hellish new device
ilk ither hour.

Was it the dreidit mental state
in whilk things yerdlie, smaa and great,
become irrelevnat, and Fate
dauntin the Kirk,
glowres at a man frae ben Hell's gate
throu endless mirk?

Syne even poetrie becomes
a naething, an affair of thrums
of words, words, a noise that jumms
wi leean skreed,
the purport tint, man's sperit numbs –
as weill be deid.

The flicker-pictur on the screen
bursts as by boomb-blast, and is gane;
What was sae firm and good yestreen
seems foul indeed.
Syne a man brenns his buiks bedeen,
afore he's deid.

Ye didna hae to fash your thoombs
wi hydrogen or atom boombs,
nor monie a nesty thocht that soums
aye in our heid
and flegs us in our flimsie rooms,
and yet, you're deid.

Aweill, ye're deid, gey lang sinsyne –
the Scottish elegaic line
I'll spare ye, tho, as ye ken fine,
ye screivit monie
crouse stanzas whan ye'd cam to tine
some decent cronie.

My ain toun's makar, monie an airt
formed us in common, faur apairt
in time,but fell alike in hert;
I whiles forget
that ye ligg there ablow the clart
of Canongait.

Like me, nae dout, wi muckle darin,
ye pree'd grim joys of Muschat's cairn
and grugous thochts of Effie's bairn,
or, as a laddie,
ye skliddert doun, for scarts no caring,
the Guttit Haddie.

The Auld High Schule (gane Royal syne)
your Alma Mater was and mine,
and whar ye construed, line by line,
the Gallic Weirs
we ken the airt, doun by the Wynd
of the Black Friars.

The wind that blaws frae Nor to South,
skirlan frae ilka close's mouth,
has nithert baith o's in our youth
and coupt us, whiles,
as we gaed hame wi slockent drouth
doun by Sanct Giles'.

But aye we'd rise wi little hairm
and cleik ilk ither by the airm,
singan in unison to chairm
awa the skaith,
syne seek some cantraip, harum-skarum
and naething laith.

Ye stickit minister, young Rab,
ye wadnae hain your giff-gaff gab
frae me, a dominie or crab
aye stickan it,
nor gruch your brain, nor cry me scab
for pickin it.

To Warld's End Close frae Ramsay Lane
we'd ding Auld Reekie's black rigg-bane.
Whan Ne'er-gate's ten-hour bell had gane
that wadnae daunt us;
I'd gie scotch-convoy back again
to Dawnie Douglas.

Ye'd quote frae Ramsay, I frae Grieve;
wi Happy Days yer wame I'd steeve
and aye the mair ye'd hae me prieve
your aqua vitae,
syne we wad rair out sangs to deave
the swuffan citie.

Up gaed ilk sash wi feck of skriekan,
frae the wee windaes heids were keekan;
the Embro folk gied owre their gleekin
for very joy;
in ae bricht lowe we aa were beekan –
wow! what a ploy!

But ach! the nippie-tongue of morn
pits aa sic glaumerie to scorn;
I stand here glaikit and forlorn
in Canongait,
ettlesome, yet feart to sorn
on your estait.

Robert, fareweill; I maun awa.
My gait is stey, no wyce ava,
by Jacob's Ladder, Burns's smaa
Greek pepperpat,
Sanct Andrew's House an' aa an aa' –
nae mair of that!

Pechan, I turn, whilst aye your leid
of lowan Scots sounds in my heid
wi levan braith, tho ye ligg deid;
I glowre faur doun
and see the waesome wrak outspreid
of you auld toun.

Syne trauchlan up the brae yince mair,
frae Canongait, I leave ye there,
whar wee white roses scent the air
about your grave,
and til some suburb new and bare
gang wi the lave.