The first verse of this poem sets out Robert Burns’s philosophy – make love not war – and the second illustrates that Burns was extremely well-read in the Classics. In this passage all about death and conflict, he refers to the execution of the Athenian philosopher Socrates and his defence by his pupil Plato. Also the demise of the Spartan king, Leonidas who chose to die in battle rather than retreat or surrender against the invading Persians at Thermopylae and the Roman, Cato, who opted for death by suicide rather than a pardon from Caesar. His biblical knowledge is shown by his reference to the Israelite Zimri and his Midianite wife Cozbi who were murdered by a single spear as they lovingly embraced.
“I murder hate by flood or field, Tho' glory's name may screen us; In wars at home I'll spend my blood - Life-giving wars of Venus. The deities that I adore are Social Peace and Plenty; I'm better pleas'd to make one more, than be the death of twenty.
I would not die like Socrates, For all the fuss of Plato; Nor would I with Leonidas, Nor yet would I with Cato: The zealots of the Church and State Shall ne'er my mortal foes be; But let me have bold Zimri's fate, Within the arms of Cozbi!”