On Seeing One on a Lady's Bonnet at Church

Ha! whare ye gaun' ye crowlin ferlie?
Your impudence protects you sairly;
I canna say but ye strunt rarely
     Owre gauze and lace,
Tho faith! I fear ye dine but sparely
     On sic a place.

Ye ugly, creepin, blastit wonner,
Detested, shunn'd by saunt an sinner,
How daur ye set your fit upon her---
     Sae fine a lady!
Gae somewhere else and seek your dinner
     On some poor body.

Swith! in some beggar's hauffet squattle;
There ye may creep, and sprawl, and sprattle;
Wi' ither kindred, jumping cattle;
     In shoals and nations;
Whare horn nor bane ne'er daur unsettle
     Your thick plantations.

Now haud you there! ye're out o' sight,
Below the fatt'rils, snug an tight,
Na, faith ye yet! ye'll no be right,
     Till ye've got on it---
The vera tapmost, tow'rin height
     O' Miss's bonnet.

My sooth! right bauld ye set your nose out,
As plump an grey as onie grozet:
O for some rank, mercurial rozet,
     Or fell, red smeddum,
I'd gie you sic a hearty dose o't,
     Wad dress your droddum!

I wad na been surpris'd to spy
You on an auld wife's flainen toy
Or aiblins some bit duddie boy,
     On's wyliecoat;
But Miss's fine Lunardi! fye!
     How daur ye do't?

O Jeany, dinna toss your head,
An set your beauties a' abread!
Ye little ken what cursed speed
     The blastie's makin!
Thae winks an finger-ends, I dread,
     Are notice takin!

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us
     An foolish notion:
What airs in dress an gait wad lea'es us,
     An ev'n devotion!
- Robert Burns
For those of us who don't speak drunken Scotsman, This was written in response to Burns' spying of a louse on a fine lady's bonnet during church. She is most likely sitting in the front pew, with all of the poorer classes in the back of the church. Burns is behind her, spots the louse, and realises everyone else will see it.

The whole point of the poem is summed up in the lines "O wad some Power the giftie gie us / To see oursels as ithers see us!" or, we should be able to see ourselves the way others do, then maybe we wouldn't act like such jerks. Burns was a big fan of sticking morals in the end of his poems; see also "To a Mouse".

Jenny, the girl in the poem, doesn't know the louse is there, so she will continue to look down her nose at all the lower-class citizens, even though they now know she's no better than they. She has lice too.

Here is my translation, it doesn't rhyme, but semi-accurate translations rarely do.

Hey! Where are you going, you creepy-crawly?
Your arrogance is no protection
You don't usually hang out
On such pretty and expensive fabric
I think you don't usually feed on chicks like that

You ugly, creeping, blasted bug
Hated, rejected by both saint and sinner
How dare you crawl upon her?
This fine lady?
Go somewhere else and seek your dinner
On somebody poorer

Go! To some poor beggar's house
There, you can be creepy and gross
With your own kind, out in the country,
Where no one will try to get rid of you

Well, at least hide! Get out of sight
Below the ruffles
Oh man, you won't stop,
Until you're on the very top of her bonnet

I wouldn't have been surprised to see you
On some old lady
Or on a poor and dirty boy
But on this lovely girl?
How dare you!?!

Oh, Jenny, move your head.
Knock that louse off
You can't see how visible he is
But all the other churchgoers can

Oh, if only some power would give us
The gift to see ourselves as others see us
It would free us from blunders
- That's crazy talk
Most of us are such snobs about the way we dress, 
and act, and even where we sit in the church. 

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.