I mean, who wouldn’t love this man?
It’s not his looks, though he is handsome for an old, dead guy. It’s not his money, because you know poets can NEVER have any of that. (Their code of honor.)
It’s his words I love. They tell of a big heart, a broad mind, a good sense of humor and a sharp wit–which is why men and women everywhere, but especially in Scotland, revere Robert Burns.
Three of my creative projects converged this week in that one man: Music, Gardening and Poetry. My piano teacher, sensing that I was getting bored with two years of intense scale work, gave me a creative assignment–choose any key, Major and corresponding Minor, and compose a song. Later that day, I was reading through a number of garden poems and came across Burns’, To a Mountain Daisy–On Turning One Down with the Plough. I started to wonder if it could be turned into a decent modern song. Here it is in its original, then I’ll follow with the modifications I made to fit it into a song.
TO A MOUNTAIN DAISY.
ON TURNING ONE DOWN WITH THE PLOUGH.
Wee modest crimson-tipped flower,
Thou’st met me in an evil hour;
For I maun crush amang the stour
Thy slender stem;
To spare thee now is past my power,
Thy bonnie gem.
Alas! it’s no thy neeber sweet,
The bonnie Lark, companion meet!
Bending thee ‘mang the dewy weet!
Wi’ speckled breast,
When upward springing, blithe to greet
The purplin east.
Cauld blew the bitter biting north
Upon thy early, humble birth;
Yet cheerfully thou glinted forth
Amid the storm,
Scarce reared above the parent earth
Thy tender form.
The flaunting flowers our gardens yield,
High sheltering woods and wa’s maun shield!
But thou, beneath the random bield
O’ clod or stane,
Adorns’t the histie stibble-field,
There, in thy scanty mantle clad,
Thy snowy bosom sunward spread,
Thou lift’st thy unassuming head
In humble guise:
But now the share uptears thy bed,
And low thou lies!
Such is the fate of the artless maid,
Sweet flowret of rural shade!
By love’s simplicity betrayed,
And guileless trust;
Till she, like thee, all soiled, is laid
Low i’ the dust.
Such is the fate of the simple bard,
On life’s rough ocean luckless starr’d!
Unskilful he to note the card
Of prudent lore,
Till billows rage, and gales blow hard,
And whelm him o’er!
Such fate to suffering worth is given,
Who long with wants and woes has striven,
By human pride and cunning driven
To misery’s bring,
Till, wrenched of every stay but heaven,
He ruined sink!
Even thou who mourn’st the Daisy’s fate
That fate is thine—no distant date;
Stern ruin’s ploughshare drives clate,
Full on thy bloom,
Till crushed beneath the furrow’s weight
Shall be thy doom!
It’s a bit long for a song, so I cut it down to the first four stanzas with a chorus, and I placed it in C# Minor. At first, I kept six stanzas, but when the chorus was added, the song seemed too long. Also, it sounds a bit like something else I’ve heard, but I can’t pinpoint what. The chords go, C# minor to E to F# to C#. The minor chord makes it feel gloomy, but then the chorus starts to get upbeat. Also, the E has a feeling of rest at each second line–a little like what the poet accomplished with his four syllable lines. Here are the lyrics:
Modest Flower, C#
This is the evil hour, E
I must crush your slender stem F#
Among the stour. C# (Stour is an interesting word–in Scottish it is a term meaning stout and hardy. It’s also an english river and means turmoil and storm and conflict.)
There’s a sweet, sweet song, C#
Bending among the wheat, E
With feathery breast, F#
It flies to meet the purpling east. C#
Cold blew the bitter North, C#
Still you came forth, E
Barely rose amid the storm, F#
Such a tender form. C#
The garden flowers yield, C#
You have only woods to shield, E
Beneath the dirt and stone, F#
You come alone. C#
C# Soft beneath the stone, it rises
E Crushed beneath the clod.
C# I can find no power to save you,
E Still you will arise.
As softly as a feather, F#
As tender as a song. C#
So, here’s to Robert Burns–who cared enough to write about a poor Mountain Daisy about to be crushed by the plough. Reading his poem reminded me of my feelings for this wild flower that appeared a few weeks ago among the rocks–braving the cold–standing alone. How wonderful that a poet two hundred years ago saw, felt it, and kept it alive through song.