Robert Burn’s “A Bard’s Epitaph,” with commentary

A Bard’s Epitaph (1786)

Is there a whim-inspired fool,
Owre* fast for thought, owre hot for rule,                                      Over/too
Owre blate* to seek, owre proud to snool*,                                  Bashful; to
submit tamely
Let him draw near;
And owre this grassy heap sing dool*,                                           Dole/sorrow
And drap* a tear.                                                                            Drop
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,                                                   Brotherly-feeling
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, thro’* the starting tear,                                        Through
Survey this grave.
The poor inhabitant below
Was quick to learn the 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                                                  Your
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.
poem is an epitaph for a dead bard; in Scotland at the time this was a
strolling musician or minstrel, classed with vagabonds. It is a morality tale
addressed to the reader, particularly to bards and men who seek to inspire
others, of a talented bard who gained fame and honor but lost it due to leading
a wild and dissolute life; thus, he ended with a stained reputation and lost
respect in death.

The poem follows an AAABAB rhyme scheme with eight syllables
to the “A” lines and four syllables to the “B” lines.

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