Poetry Corner: Ode to the Gowdspink

On this day 13th August 1867 Sir William Craigie, the Scottish lexicographer, was born. Craigie was regarded as the most eminent lexicographer of his day and spent from 1901-1933 as joint editor of the ‘Oxford English Dictionary’. His other passion was the Scots language, and he proposed a “Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue” as early as 1919. He began work on it later in life but had not managed to complete the work at his death. Scot Clans


Ode to the Gowdspink

Frae fields whare Spring her sweets has blawn
Wi caller verdure owr the lawn,
The gowdspink comes in new attire,
The brawest ‘mang the whistling choir,
That, ere the sun can clear his een,
Wi glib notes sain the simmer’s green.

Sure Nature herried mony a tree,
For spraings and bonny spats to thee:
Nae mair the rainbow can impart
Sic glowing ferlies o’ her art,
Whase pencil wrought its freaks at will
On thee the sey-piece o’ her skill.
Nae mair thro’ straths in simmer dight
We seek the rose to bless our sight;
Or bid the bonny wa-flowers sprout
On yonder ruin’s lofty snout.
Thy shining garments far outstrip
The cherries upo’ Hebe’s lip,
And fool the tints that Nature chose
To busk and paint the crimson rose.

‘Mang man, wae’s heart! We aften find
The brawest drest want peace of mind,
While he that gangs wi ragged coat
Is weel contentit wi his lot.
Whan wand wi glewy birdlime’s set,
To steal far aff your dautit mate,
Blyth wad ye change your cleething gay
In lieu of lav’rock’s sober grey.
In vain thro’ woods you sair may ban
Th’envious treachery of man,
That, wi your gowden glister taen,
Still hunts you on the simmer’s plain,
And traps you ‘mang the sudden fa’s
O’ winter’s dreary dreepin snaws.
Now steekit frae the gowany field,
Frae ilka fav’rite houff and bield,
But mergh, alas! To disengage
Your bonny bouk frae fettering cage,
Your free-born bosom beats in vain
For darling liberty again.
In window hung, how aft we see
Thee keek around at warblers free,
That carrol saft, and sweetly sing
Wi’ a the blythness of the spring?
Like Tantalus they hing you here,
To spy the glories o’ the year;
And tho’ you’re at the burnie’s brink,
They downa suffer you to drink.

Ah, Liberty! thou bonny dame,
How wildly wanton is thy stream,
Round whilk the birdies a’ rejoice,
An’ hail you wi a grateful voice.
The gowdspink chatters joyous here,
And courts wi’ gleesome sangs his peer:
The mavis frae the new-bloom’d thorn
Begins his lauds at ear’est morn;
And herd loun louping owr the grass,
Need far less fleetching til his lass,
Than paughty damsels bred at courts,
Wha thraw their mou’s and take the dorts:
But, reft of thee, fient flee we care
For a’ that life ahint can spare.
The gowdspink, that sae lang has kend
Thy happy sweets (his wonted friend),
Her sad confinement ill can brook
In some dark chamber’s dowy nook;
Tho’ Mary’s hand his neb supplies,
Unkend to hunger’s painfu cries,
Ev’n beauty canna cheer the heart
Frae life, frae liberty apart;
For now we tyne its wonted lay,
Sae lightsome sweet, sae blythly gay.

Thus Fortune aft a curse can gie,
To wyle us far frae liberty:
Then tent her siren smiles wha list,
I’ll ne’er envy your girnal’s grist;
For whan fair freedom smiles nae mair,
Care I for life? Shame fa’ the hair;
A field o’ergrown wi’ rankest stubble,
The essence of a paltry bubble.

Robert Fergusson (1750 – 1774)

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