Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Love is in the air! No, I’m not talking Valentine’s Day yet…but I am talking Burn’s Day 25th January.

How to describe your heroine? - Here’s how Robert Burns did it. (Born 1759, Died 1796)

Robert Burns, of Auld Lang Syne fame the world over, was one of the best romantics ever. He loved many women during his life, and penned many a poem to them. Sometimes the poems were written in a flurry, and others with much deliberation. Some were complex, others straightforward. The amount of vernacular Scots he used often mingled with standard English. I've chosen this really simple one today to use as a little challenge. Let’s have a look at some of his phrasing and see what you would do to complete it.

These lines are taken from a poem called The Lass of Cessnock Banks. The complete poem is 13 stanzas of rhyming couplets. The first stanza is as follows:

On Cessnock banks a lassie dwells,

Could I describe her shape and mien;

Our lasses a’ she far excels-

An’ she has twa sparkling, rogueish een! (This line becomes the last of every stanza, except the very last one)

The stanzas now follow with these as the first lines of each:

She’s sweeter than the morning dawn …

She’s stately like yon youthful ash …

She’s spotless like the flow’ring thorn …

Her looks are like the vernal May …

Her hair is like the curling mist …

Her forehead’s like the show’ry bow …

Her cheeks are like yon crimson gem …

Her teeth are like the nightly snow …

Her lips are like yon cherries ripe …

Her breath is like the fragrant breeze …

Her voice is like the ev’ning thrush …

Now follows the complete last stanza:

But it’s not her air, her form, her face,

Tho’ matching Beauty’s fabled Queen:

‘Tis the mind that shines in ev’ry grace-

An’ chiefly in her rogueish een!

(Not sure of a word? –mien: appearance, een: eyes, show’ry: showery, bow: bough, rogueish: mischievous)

What do you think would be the missing lines? Go on, have a go! Take your pick and write your own stanza using Burn’s original first and last lines.

(If you find the poem and cheat I'm probably going to guess!)




  1. I do not have the poetry gene, so I will leave this to Sir Robert Burns. I love how he describes his lady, each portion of her face, her hair, her body. I truly believe he was a man who loved women. With all of that said, these are my favorite lines:
    but it's not her air, her form, her face
    'tis the mind that shines in ev'ry grace.

    Yes Mr. Burns! The mind is the key to all beauty, imho.


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