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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Scotland: Vols. VI–VIII. 1876–79.

Ayr, the River

The Brigs of Ayr

By Robert Burns (1759–1796)

(See full text)

Inscribed to John Ballantyne, Esq., Ayr

Unknown and poor, simplicity’s reward,

Ae night, within the ancient brugh of Ayr,

By whim inspired, or haply prest wi’ care,

He left his bed, and took his wayward route,

And down by Simpson’s wheeled the left-about:

Whether impelled by all-directing Fate

To witness what I after shall narrate;

Or whether, rapt in meditation high,

He wandered out he knew not where or why.

The drowsy Dungeon clock had numbered two,

And Wallace Tower had sworn the fact was true;

The tide-swoln Firth, with sullen-sounding roar,

Through the still night dashed hoarse along the shore.

All else was hushed as Nature’s closéd e’e;

The silent moon shone high o’er tower and tree;

The chilly frost, beneath the silver beam,

Crept, gently crusting, o’er the glittering stream;—

When lo! on either hand the listening bard

The clanging sugh of whistling wings is heard;

Two dusky forms dart through the midnight air,

Swift as the gos drives on the wheeling hare.

Ane on the Auld Brig his airy shape uprears,

The ither flutters o’er the rising piers:

Our warlock Rhymer instantly descried

The Sprites that owre the Brigs of Ayr preside.

(That bards are second-sighted is nae joke,

And ken the lingo of the sp’ritual folk;

Fays, Spunkies, Kelpies, a’, they can explain them,

And even the very deils they brawly ken them.)

Auld Brig appeared of ancient Pictish race,

The very wrinkles Gothic in his face:

He seemed as he wi’ Time had warstled lang,

Yet, teughly doure, he bade an unco bang.

New Brig was buskit in a braw new coat

That he at Lon’on, frae ane Adams, got;

In ’s hand five taper staves as smooth ’s a bead,

Wi’ virls and whirlygigums at the head.

The Goth was stalking round with anxious search,

Spying the time-worn flaws in every arch;

It chanced his new-come neebor took his e’e,

And e’en a vexed and angry heart had he!

Wi’ thieveless sneer to see his modish mien,

He, down the water, gies him this guid-e’en:—

I doubt na, frien’, ye ’ll think ye ’re nae sheep-shank,

Ance ye were streekit o’er frae bank to bank,

But gin ye be a brig as auld as me,—

Though, faith, that day I doubt ye ’ll never see,—

There ’ll be, if that date come, I ’ll wad a boddle,

Some fewer whigmaleeries in your noddle.

Auld Vandal, ye but shew your little mense,

Just much about it wi’ your scanty sense.

Will your poor, narrow footpath of a street,—

Where twa wheelbarrows tremble when they meet,—

Your ruined, formless bulk o’ stane and lime,

Compare wi’ bonny brigs o’ modern time?

There ’s men o’ taste would tak the Ducat Stream,

Though they should cast the very sark and swim,

Ere they would grate their feelings wi’ the view

Of sic an ugly Gothic hulk as you.

Conceited gowk, puffed up wi’ windy pride!

This monie a year I ’ve stood the flood and tide;

And though wi’ crazy eild I ’m sair forfairn,

I ’ll be a Brig when ye ’re a shapeless cairn!

As yet ye little ken about the matter,

But twa-three winters will inform ye better.

When heavy, dark, continued, a’-day rains

Wi’ deepening deluges o’erflow the plains

When from the hills where springs the brawling Coil,

Or stately Lugar’s mossy fountains boil,

Or where the Greenock winds his moorland course,

Or haunted Garpal draws his feeble source,

Aroused by blustering winds and spotting thowes,

In monie a torrent down his snaw-broo rowes;

While crashing ice, borne on the roaring speat,

Sweeps dams and mills and brigs, a’ to the gate;

And from Glenbuck down to the Ratton-key

Auld Ayr is just one lengthened tumbling sea,—

Then down ye ’ll hurl, deil nor ye never rise!

And dash the gumlie jaups up to the pouring skies:

A lesson sadly teaching, to your cost,

That Architecture’s noble art is lost!

Fine Architecture, trowth, I needs must say’t o’t!

The L—d be thankit that we ’ve tint the gate o’t!

Gaunt, ghastly, ghaist-alluring edifices,

Hanging with threatening jut, like precipices;

O’erarching, mouldy, gloom-inspiring coves,

Supporting roofs, fantastic, stony groves:

Windows and doors in nameless sculpture drest,

With order, symmetry, or taste unblest;

Forms like some bedlam statuary’s dream,

The crazed creations of misguided whim;

Forms might be worshipped on the bended knee,

And still the second dread command be free,

Their likeness is not found on earth, in air, or sea.

Mansions that would disgrace the building taste

Of any mason reptile, bird or beast;

Fit only for a doited monkish race,

Or frosty maids forsworn the dear embrace;

Or cuifs of latter times, wha held the notion

That sullen gloom was sterling true devotion;

Fancies that our good Brugh denies protection!

And soon may they expire, unblest with resurrection!