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Lament For James, Earl Of Glencairn

I was reading recently of the great US president, Abraham Lincoln, who was an avid reader of Robert Burns. It is recorded that he was particularly moved by this poem.

James Cunningham, 14th Earl of Glencairn, became one of Robert Burns’s first and foremost aristocratic patrons following publication of the poet’s work. He was instrumental in introducing Burns to Edinburgh society and his support encouraged the mass purchase of further editions of poems. He died aged just 41 in 1791, after which Burns wrote this heartfelt tribute. I have recorded some verses extracted from the lament but also give the full text below.

“ The wind blew hollow frae the hills, By fits the sun's departing beam

Look'd on the fading yellow woods, That wav'd o'er Lugar's winding stream:

Beneath a craigy steep, a Bard, Laden with years and meikle pain,

In loud lament bewail'd his lord, Whom Death had all untimely ta'en.

He lean'd him to an ancient aik, Whose trunk was mould'ring down with years;

His locks were bleached white with time, His hoary cheek was wet wi' tears!

And as he touch'd his trembling harp, And as he tun'd his doleful sang,

The winds, lamenting thro' their caves, To Echo bore the notes alang.

"Ye scatter'd birds that faintly sing, The reliques o' the vernal queir!

Ye woods that shed on a' the winds The honours of the aged year!

A few short months, and glad and gay, Again ye'll charm the ear and e'e;

But nocht in all-revolving time Can gladness bring again to me.

"I am a bending aged tree, That long has stood the wind and rain;

But now has come a cruel blast, And my last hald of earth is gane;

Nae leaf o' mine shall greet the spring, Nae simmer sun exalt my bloom;

But I maun lie before the storm, And ithers plant them in my room.

"I've seen sae mony changefu' years, On earth I am a stranger grown:

I wander in the ways of men, Alike unknowing, and unknown:

Unheard, unpitied, unreliev'd, I bear alane my lade o' care,

For silent, low, on beds of dust, Lie a' that would my sorrows share.

"And last, (the sum of a' my griefs!) My noble master lies in clay;

The flow'r amang our barons bold, His country's pride, his country's stay:

In weary being now I pine, For a' the life of life is dead,

And hope has left may aged ken, On forward wing for ever fled.

"Awake thy last sad voice, my harp! The voice of woe and wild despair!

Awake, resound thy latest lay, Then sleep in silence evermair!

And thou, my last, best, only, friend, That fillest an untimely tomb,

Accept this tribute from the Bard Thou brought from Fortune's mirkest gloom.

"In Poverty's low barren vale, Thick mists obscure involv'd me round;

Though oft I turn'd the wistful eye, Nae ray of fame was to be found:

Thou found'st me, like the morning sun That melts the fogs in limpid air,

The friendless bard and rustic song Became alike thy fostering care.

"O! why has worth so short a date, While villains ripen grey with time?

Must thou, the noble, gen'rous, great, Fall in bold manhood's hardy prime

Why did I live to see that day- A day to me so full of woe?

O! had I met the mortal shaft That laid my benefactor low!

"The bridegroom may forget the bride Was made his wedded wife yestreen;

The monarch may forget the crown That on his head an hour has been;

The mother may forget the child That smiles sae sweetly on her knee;

But I'll remember thee, Glencairn, And a' that thou hast done for me!"

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