Scottish Poetry Selection
- Epistle to a Young Friend

This poem was sent in 1786 to an Andrew Hunter Aiken. The lad must have followed the advice quite well as he later became a merchant and latterly was the British consul in Riga, the capital of Latvia. Perhaps Burns could have done well to follow some of his own advice!

Epistle to a Young Friend

I lang hae thought, my youthfu friend,
   A something to have sent you,
Tho it should serve nae ither end
   Than just a kind memento:
But how the subject-theme may gang.
   Let time and chance determine:
Perhaps it may turn out a sang;
   Perhaps, turn out a sermon.

Ye'll try the world soon, my lad;
   And, Andrew dear, believe me,
Ye'll find mankind an unco squad,
   And muckle they may grieve ye:
For care and trouble set your thought,
   Ev'n when your end's attained;
And a' your views may come to nought.
   Where ev'ry nerve is strained.

I'll no say, men are villains a':
   The real, harden'd wicked,
Wha hae nae check but human law,
   Are to a few restricked;
But, och! mankind are unco weak,
   An little to be trusted;
If self the wavering balance shake,
   It's rarely right adjusted!

Yet they wha fa' in Fortune's strife,
   Their fate we should na censure;
For still, th' important end of life
   They equally may answer:
A man may hae an honest heart,
   Tho poortith hourly stare him;
A man may tak a neebor's part,
   Yet hae nae cash to spare him.
Ay free, aff han', your story tell,
   When wi a bosom cronie;
But still keep something to yoursel
   Ye scarcely tell to onie:
Conceal yoursel as weel's ye can
   Frae critical dissection:
But keek thro ev'ry other man,
   Wi sharpen'd, sly inspection.

Meaning of unusual words:

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