The Twa Dogs

by Robert Burns

A Tale.

'Twas in that place o' Scotland's isle,
That bears the name o' Auld King Coil,
Upon a bonnie day in June,
When wearing thro' the afternoon,
Twa dogs, that were na thrang at hame,
Forgather'd ance upon a time.

The first I'll name, they ca'd him Caesar,
Was keepit for His Honour's pleasure;
His hair, his size, his mouth, his lugs,
Shew'd he was nane o' Scotland's dogs;
But whalpit some place far abroad,
Whare sailors gang to fish for cod.

His locked, letter'd, braw brass collar
Shew'd him the gentleman and scholar;
But tho' he was o' high degree,
The fient a pride, nae pride had he;
But wad hae spent an hour caressin',
Even wi' a tinkler-gypsey's messan'.
At kirk or market, mill or smiddie,
Nae tawted tyke, tho' e'er sae duddie,
But he wad stan 't, as glad to see him,
An' stroan 't on stanes an' hillocks wi' him

The tither was a ploughman's collie,
A rhyming, ranting, raving billie,
Wha for his friend an' comrade had him,
And in his freaks had Luath ca'd him,
After some dog in Highland sang,
Was made lang-syne - Lord knows how lang.

He was a gash an' faithfu' tyke,
As ever lap a sheugh or dyke.
His honest, sonsie, baws'nt face,
Aye gat him friends in ilka place.
His breast was white, his towzie back
Weel clad wi' coat o' glossy black;
His gaucie tail, wi' upward curl,
Hung owre his hurdie's wi' a swirl.

Nae doubt but they were fain o' ither,
An' unco pack an' thick thegither;
Wi' social nose whyles snuff'd an' snowkit,
Whyles mice an' moudieworts they howkit;
Whyles scour'd awa in lang excursion,
An' worry'd ither in diversion;
Until wi' daffin weary grown,
Upon a knowe they sat them down
And there began a lang digression
About the lords o' the creation.


I've aften wonder'd, honest Luath,
What sort o' life poor dogs like you have;
An' when the gentry's life I saw,
What way poor bodies liv'd ava.

Our laird gets in his racked rents,
His coals, his kain, an' a' his stents;
He rises when he likes himsel';
His flunkies answer at the bell;
He ca's his coach, he ca's his horse;
He draws a bonnie silken purse
As lang's my tail, whare, thro' the steeks,
The yellow-letter'd Geordie keeks.

Frae morn to e'en it's nought but toiling,
At baking, roasting, frying, boiling;
An' tho' the gentry first are stechin,
Yet ev'n the ha' folk fill their pechan
Wi' sauce, ragouts, an' sic like trashtrie,
That's little short o' downright wastrie.
Our whipper-in, wee, blastit wonner

Poor worthless elf, it eats a dinner
Better than ony tenant man
His Honour has in a' the lan';
An' what poor cot-folk pit their painch in,
I own it's past my comprehension.


Trowth, Caesar, whyles they're fash't eneugh;
A cottar howkin' in a sheugh,
Wi' dirty stanes biggin' a dyke,
Baring a quarry, an' sic like;
Himsel, a wife, he thus sustains,
A smytrie o' wee duddie weans,
An' nought but his han' darg, to keep
Them right an' tight in thack an' rape.

An' when they meet wi' sair disasters,
Like loss o' health or want o' masters,
Ye maist wad think, a wee touch langer,
An' they maun starve o' cauld an' hunger
But, how it comes, I never kenn'd yet,
They're maistly wonderfu' contented:
An' buirdly chiels, an' clever hizzies,
Are bred in sic a way as this is.


But, then, to see how ye 're negleckit,
How huff'd, and cuff'd, and disrespeckit
L--d, man, our gentry care as little
For delvers, ditchers, an' sic cattle;
They gang as saucy by poor folk
As I wad by a stinkin' brock.
I've notic'd, on our Laird's court-day,
An' mony a time my heart's been wae,
Poor tenant bodies, scant o cash,
How they maun thole a factor's snash:
He'll stamp an' threaten, curse an' swear,
He'll apprehend them, poind their gear;
While they maun stan', wi' aspect humble,
An' hear it a', an' fear an' tremble!

I see how folk live that hae riches;
But surely poor folk maun be wretches?


They're no sae wretched s ane wad think
Tho' constantly on poortith's brink
They're sae accustom'd wi' the sight,
The view o 't gives them little fright.

Then chance an' fortune are sae guided,
They're ay in less or mair provided;
An' tho' fatigued wi' close employment,
A blink o' rest 's a sweet enjoyment.

The dearest comfort o' their lives,
Their grushie weans an' faithfu' wives;
The prattling things are just their pride,
That sweetens a' their fire-side;
An' whyles twalpennie worth o' nappy
Can mak' the bodies unco happy;
They lay aside their private cares,
To mind the Kirk and State affairs:
They'll talk o' patronage an' priests,
Wi' kindling fury in their breasts;
Or tell what new taxation's comin',
An' ferlie at the folk in Lon'on.

As bleak-fac'd Hallowmass returns,
They get the jovial, rantin kirns,
When rural life, o' ev'ry station,
Unite in common recreation;
Love blinks, Wit slaps, an' social Mirth
Forgets there 's Care upo' the earth.

That merry day the year begins
They bar the door on frosty win's;
The nappy reeks wi' mantling ream,
And sheds a heart-inspiring steam;
The luntin' pipe, an' sneeshin' mill,
Are handed round wi' right guid will;
The cantie auld folks crackin' crouse,
The young anes rantin' thro' the house, -
My heart has been sae fain to see them,
That I for joy hae barkit wi' them.

Still it 's owre true that ye hae said,
Sic game is now owre often play'd.
There 's mony a creditable stock
O' decent, honest, fawsont fo'k,
Are riven out baith root and branch,
Some rascal's pridefu' greed to quench,
Wha thinks to knit himsel' the faster
In favour wi' some gentle master,
Wha aiblins, thrang a parliamentin',
For Britain's guid his saul indentin' -


Haith, lad, ye little ken about it;
For Britain's guid! guid faith! I doubt it.
Say rather, gaun as Premiers lead him,
An' saying aye or no 's they bid him:
At operas an' plays parading,
Mortgaging, gambling, masquerading;
Or may be, in a frolic daft,
To Hague or Calais tak's a waft,
To mak' a tour, an' tak' a whirl,
To learn bon ton, an' see the worl'.

There, at Vienna or Versailles,
He rives his father's auld entails;
Or by Madrid he takes the route,
To thrum guitars, an' fecht wi' nowte;
Or down Italian vista startles,
Wh-re-hunting amang groves o' myrtles;
Then bouses drumly German water,
To mak' himsel' look fair and fatter,
An' clear the consequential sorrows,
Love-gifts of Carnival signoras.
For Britain's guid! - for her destruction
Wi' dissipation, feud, an' faction!


Hech man! dear sirs! is that the gate
They waste sae mony a braw estate!
Are we sae foughten an' harass'd
For gear to gang that gate at last!

O would they stay aback frae Courts,
An' please themsels wi' countra sports,
It wad for ev'ry ane be better,
The Laird, the Tenant, an' the Cotter!

For thae frank, rantin', ramblin' billies,
Fient haet o' them 's ill-hearted fellows;
Except for breakin' o' their timmer,
Or speakin' lightly o' their limmer,
Or shootin' o' a hare or moor-cock,
The ne'er a bit they 're ill to poor folk,

But will ye tell me, Master Caesar,
Sure great folk's life 's a life o' pleasure?
Nae cauld nor hunger e'er can steer them,
The very thought o 't need na fear them.


L--d, man, were ye but whyles whare I am,
The gentles, ye wad ne'er envy 'em.
It 's true, they need na starve or sweat,
Thro' winter's cauld, or simmer's heat;
They've nae sair wark to craze their banes,
An' fill auld age wi' grips an' granes:
But human bodies are sic fools,
For a' their colleges and schools,
That when nae real ills perplex them,
They mak' enow themsels to vex them;
An' aye the less they hae to sturt them,
In like proportion, less will hurt them.

A country fellow at the pleugh,
His acres till'd, he's right eneugh;
A country girl at her wheel,
Her dizzen's dune, she 's unco weel:
But gentlemen, an' ladies warst,
Wi' ev'ndown want o' wark are curst.
They loiter, lounging, lank, an' lazy;
Tho' deil-haet ails them, yet uneasy;
Their days insipid, dull, an' tasteless;
Their nights unquiet, lang, an' restless;
An' ev'n their sports, their balls an' races,
Their galloping thro' public places,
There's sic parade, sic pomp, an' art,
The joy can scarcely reach the heart.

The men cast out in party-matches,
Then sowther a' in deep debauches;
Ae night they 're mad wi' drink an' wh-ring,
Niest day their life is past enduring.

The ladies arm-in-arm in clusters,
As great an' gracious a' as sisters;
But hear their absent thoughts o' ither,
They 're a' run deils an' jads thegither.
Whyles, owre the wee bit cup an' platie,
They sip the scandal potion pretty:
Or lee-lang nights, wi' crabbit leuks
Pore owre the devil's pictur'd beuks;
Stake on a chance a farmer's stackyard,
An' cheat like ony unhang'd blackguard.
There 's some exception, man an' woman:
But this is gentry's life in common.

By this, the sun was out o' sight,
An' darker gloaming brought the night;
The bum-clock humm'd wi' lazy drone;
The kye stood rowtin' i' the loan:
When up they gat an' shook their lugs,
Rejoic'd they were na men, but dogs;
An' each took aff his several way,
Resolv'd to meet some ither day.

Notes to the poem:

Gilbert Burns says: "The tale of "The Twa Dogs" was composed after the resolution of publishing was nearly taken. Robert had a dog, which he called Luath, that was a great favorite. The dog had been killed by the wanton cruelty of some person, the night before my fathers death. Robert said to me that he should like to confer such immortality as he could bestow on his old friend Luath, and that he had a great mind to introduce something into the book under the title of 'Stanzas to the Memory of a Quadruped Friend,' but this plan was given up for the poem as it now stands. Caesar was merely the creature of the poets imagination, created for the purpose of holding chat with his favorite Luath." The factor who stood for his portrait here was the same of whom he writes to Dr. Moore in 1787: "My indignation yet boils at the scoundrel factor's insolent threatening letters, which used to set us all in tears."


The Poetical Works Of Robert Burns
Copyright 1910
Ward, Lock, and Co., Ltd