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NEW YEAR'S DAY - To Mrs. Dunlop

Frances Dunlop had taken a great interest in the poems of Robert Burns and became a friend and regular correspondent with the poet. Burns named his second son, Francis Wallace, as a tribute to Mrs Dunlop who claimed descent from the great Scottish hero, Sir William Wallace. I have recorded an extract from a ‘sketch’ he wrote to her on New Year’s Day 1790. The complete text is given below.

“This day, Time winds th' exhausted chain; To run the twelvemonth's length again:

I see, the old bald-pated fellow, With ardent eyes, complexion sallow,

Adjust the unimpair'd machine, To wheel the equal, dull routine.

The absent lover, minor heir, In vain assail him with their prayer; Deaf as my friend, he sees them press, Nor makes the hour one moment less, Will you (the Major's with the hounds, The happy tenants share his rounds; Coila's fair Rachel's care to-day, And blooming Keith's engaged with Gray) From housewife cares a minute borrow, (That grandchild's cap will do to-morrow,) And join with me a-moralizing; This day's propitious to be wise in.

First, what did yesternight deliver? "Another year has gone for ever."

And what is this day's strong suggestion? "The passing moment's all we rest on!"

Rest on - for what? What do we here? Or why regard the passing year?

Will Time, amus'd with proverb'd lore, Add to our date one minute more?

A few days may-a few years must- Repose us in the silent dust.

Then, is it wise to damp our bliss? Yes - all such reasonings are amiss!

The voice of Nature loudly cries, And many a message from the skies,

That something in us never dies: That on his frail, uncertain state,

Hang matters of eternal weight: That future life in worlds unknown

Must take its hue from this alone; Whether as heavenly glory bright,

Or dark as Misery's woeful night.

Since then, my honour'd first of friends, On this poor being all depends,

Let us th' important now employ, And live as those who never die.

Tho' you, with days and honours crown'd, Witness that filial circle round,

(A sight life's sorrows to repulse, A sight pale Envy to convulse),

Others now claim your chief regard; Yourself, you wait your bright reward.”

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