The Twa Dogs, a satirical poem by Scottish poet Robert Burns
. The poem takes the form of a conversation between two dogs, Caesar
Luath, a 'ploughman's collie' is named after a dog Burns used to own. The name Luath is taken from the epic Gaelic poem Fingal, supposably the work of Ossian, a blind Gaelic poet from the third century A.D, but first presented by James Macpherson in 1760.
Caesar, the rich-mans Newfoundland, gives off an amiable, down-to-earth attitude that detachs him from the snobbishness and pretension of the Scottish gentry. The two dogs then proceed to demonstrate the absurdity of debates about social class but also casts a critical eye on the lives of the gentry. Burns's use of animals to describe the failings he finds in human nature is a device also used in his works, To A Mouse and To a Louse, and the poem concludes with the two animals acknowledging their good fortune in being "na men but dogs".
The poem is reproduced below, with some brief commentary provided to assist readers unfamiliar with the Scottish verse.
'Twas in that place o' Scotland's isle,
That bears the name o' auld king Coil,
And aft he's prest, and aft he ca's it guid;
The furgal Wifie, garrulous, will tell,
Upon a bonie 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 keepet for His Honor's pleasure;
His hair, his size, his mouth, his lugs,
Shew'd he was nane o' Scotland's dogs,
But whalpet some place far abroad,
Where sailors gang to fish for Cod.
His locked, letter'd braw brass-collar
Shew'd him the gentleman an' scholar;
But tho' he was o' high degree,
The fient a pride na pride had he,
But was hae spent an hour caressan,
Ev'n wi' a Tinkler-gipsey's messan:
At Kirk or Market, Mill or Smiddie,
Nae tawted tyke, th'o e'er sae duddle,
But he was stan't, as glad to see him,
An' stroan't on stanes an' hillocks wi' him.
The two dogs meet in a summer afternoon in a district of Ayrshire. The first dog, Caesar, belongs to a wealthy man, but is no snob and prepared to meet all-comers on equal terms for an enjoyable excursion pissing on stones and hillocks.
The tither was a ploughman's collie,
A rhyming, tanting, 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
Ay gat him friends in ilka place;
His breast was white, his towzie back,
Weel clad wi' coat o' glossy back;
His gawsie tail, wi' upward curl,
Hung owre his hurdies wi' a swirl.
Nae doubt but they were fain o' ither
An' unco pack an' thick thegither;
Wi' social nose whyles snuff'd an' snowket;
Whyles mice and modewurks they howket;
Whyles scour'd awa in lang excursion,
An' worry'd ither in diversion;
Till tir'd at last wi' mony a farce,
They set them down upon their arse,
An' there began a lang digression
About the lords o' the creation.
The other dog, Luath, is a handsome working collie. The two dogs spend some quality time sniffing and chasing, before settling down to discuss men.
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 awa.
Our Laird gets in his racked rents,
His coals, his kane, 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 bonie, silken purse
As lang's my tail, where thro' the steeks,
The yellow letter'd Geordie keeks.
Frae morn to een it's nought but toiling,
At baking, roasting, frying, boiling;
An' tho' the gentry first are steghan,
Yet ev'n the ha' folk fill their peghan
Wi' sauce, ragouts, an' sic like trashtrie,
That's litle short o' downright wastrie.
Our Whipper-in, wee, blastet wonner,
Poor worthless elf, it eats a dinner,
Better than ony Tenant-man
His Honor has in a' the lan';
An' what poor Cot-folk pit their painch in,
I own it's past my comprehension.
Caesar describes the idleness of the gentry life, the size and splendour of their meals, and wonders how the farmers and cottagers dine.
Trowth, Caesar, whyles they're fash't enough;
A Cotter howkan in a sheugh,
Wi' dirty stanes biggan a dyke.
Bairan a quarry, an' sic like,
Himsel, a wife, he thus sustains
A smytrie o' wee, duddie weans,
An' nought but his han'-daurk, to keep
Them right an' tight in thack an' raep.
An' when they meet wi' sair disasters,
Like loss o' health or want o' masters,
Ye maist was think, a wee touch langer,
An' they maun starve o' cauld and hunger:
But how it comes, I never kent yet,
They're maistly wonderfu' contented;
An' buirdly chiels, and clever hizzies,
Are bred in sic a way as this is.
Luath describes that although the life of the farmer is hard and precarious, the family unit is strong and appears wonderfully contented.
But then, to see how ye're negleket,
How huff'd an' cuff'd an' disrespeket!
Lord man, our gentry care as little
For delvers, ditchers an' sic cattle;
They gang as saucy as poor folk,
As I was by a stinkan 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 himble,
An' hear it a', an' fear an' tremble!
I see how folk live that hae riches;
But surely poor-folk maun be wretches!
Caesar relates how the gentry care little and mistreat the working farmers. Tactics such as raising rents and taxes, followed by eviction and intimidation should leave the poor in a state of panic and torment, the canine reasons.
They're no sae wretched's ane was think;
Tho' constantly on poortith's brink,
They're sae accustomed'd wi the sight,
The view o't gies them little fright.
Then chance and fortune are sae guided,
They're ay in less or mair provided;
And tho' fatigu'd 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 i' 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, rantan Kirns,
When rural life, of ev'ry station,
Unite in common recreation;
Love blinks, Wit slaps, an' social Mirth
Forget there's care upo' the earth.
That merry year the day begins,
They bar the door on frosty win's;
The nappy reeks wi' mantling ream,
An' sheds a heart-inspiring steam;
The luntan pipe, an' smeeshin mill,
Are handed round wi' right guid will;
The cantie, auld folks, crackan crouse,
The young anes rantan thro' the house -
My heart has been sae faine to see them,
That I for joy hae barket wi' them.
Still it's owre true that ye had said,
Sic game is now owre aften play'd;
There's monue a creditable stock
O' decent, honest, fawsont folk
Are riven out baith root an' branch,
Some rascak's pridefu' greed to quench,
Wha thinks to knit himsel the faster
In favor wi' some gentle Master,
Wha aibins thrang a parliamentin,
For Britain's guid his saul indentin -
Luath replies that since the poor have so little, they appreciate what they have all the more. They are content and happy with their families, and the merrymaking at Hogmanay and other special occasions are recounted with affection and relish. Luath barks to see such fun, before he agrees that there are a few bad eggs who who rake in the profits while the Laird is away doing his good turn down at Parliament for the good of the country.
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 maybe, in a frolic daft;
To Hague or Calais takes a waft,
To make 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 rout,
To thrum guittars an' fecht wi' nowt;
Or down Italian Vista startles,
Whore-hunting amang groves o' myrtles;
Then bowses drumlie German-water,
To mak himsel look fair and fatter,
An' purge the bitter ga's an' cankers,
O curst Venetian bores an' chancres.
For Britain's guid! for her destruction!
Wi' dissipation, feud an' faction!
Caesar mocks the other dogs naivety, deriding the behaviour of the young rich gentry away from home, travelling round Europe, wasting the family silver on games, booze and girls.
Hech man! dear sirs! is that the gate,
They waste sae mony a braw estate!
Are we sae foughten and 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, rantan, ramblan billies,
Fient haet o' them's ill hearted fellows;
Except for breakin o' their timmer,
Or speaking lightly o' their Limmer,
Or shootin of a hare or moorcock,
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 vera thought o't need na fear them.
Luath is distressed by Caesar's revelations, and wishes that the simple country life could attract these wayward young men. He then seeks reassurance that the rick folk enjoy a life of leisure and pleasure.
Lord man, were ye but whyles where I am,
The gentles ye wad ne'er envy them!
It's true, they need na starve or sweat,
Thro' Winter's cauld, or Summer'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 colledges an' schools,
That when nae real ills perplex them,
They mak enow themsels to vex them;
An' ay the less they hae to sturt them;
In like proportion, less will hurt them.
A country fellow at the pleugh,
His acre's till'd, he's right eneugh;
A country girl at her wheel,
Her dizzen's done, she's unco weel;
But Gentlemen, an' Ladies warst,
Wi' ev'n down 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,
Ther'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' whoring,
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' crabbet leuks,
Por owre the devil's pictur'd beuks;
Stake on a chance a farmer's stackland,
An' cheat like ony unhang'd blackguard.
There's some exceptions, man an' woman;
But this is Gentry's life in common.
The rich folk are not to be envied. They have little work and less discomfort but do not seem content. They are compared unfavourably with the simple country folk who appear at peace. This summing-up damns the idleness of the social life of the well-to-do, as at best frivolous and at worst hellish.
By this, the sun was out o' sight,
An' darker gloaming brought the night:
The bum-cloak humm'd wi' lazy drone,
The kye stood rowtan i' the loan;
When up they gat an' shook their lugs,
Rejoic'd they were na men but dogs;
And each took off his several way,
Resolv'd to meet some ither day.
Robert Burns (1786)