Posts Tagged ‘Scottish English’

Happy Valentine’s Day!  Today we have a post from a special guest author at Hidden Dirk Mercantile 18th century Reproduction Clothing – Carolyn Smith.  In this post, Ms. Smith looks at My Handsome Nell by Robert Burns.

Handsome Nell

Robert Burns calls Handsome Nell the first of his “performances.” Its subject is Nelly Kilpatrick, the daughter of the village blacksmith.  He describes the circumstances of this first poem, written in 1774, in an autobiographical letter to Dr. John Moore, a doctor and writer with whom he corresponded.

This kind of life [as a tenant farmer’s son] –the cheerless gloom of a hermit with the unceasing moil of a galley-slave, brought me to my sixteenth year; a little before which period I first committed the sin of rhyme.  You know our country custom of coupling a man and woman together as partners in the labors of harvest.  In my fifteenth autumn, my partner was a bewitching creature, a year younger than myself….

Among her other love-inspiring qualities, she sung sweetly; and it was her favourite reel to which I attempted giving an embodied vehicle in rhyme….

Thus with me began love and poetry; which at times have been my only, and till within the last twelve months, have been my highest enjoyment.   August 2, 1787

Notice Burns’s use of “light” Scottish dialect in the poem as opposed to the clear, straightforward English excerpts from his letter. As you read this poem and others posted this week on the blog, remember that “a” often replaces “o” and vice-versa in Burns’ Scottish dialect.  Thus “mony” is “many,” “ony” is “any,” “sae” is “so.”  It’s helpful to know that “bonie” means “pretty” and “hae” means “have.” 

My Handsome Nell

O, once I lov’d a bonie lass, Ay, and I love her still; And, whilst that virtue warms my breast I’ll love my handsome Nell.

As bonie lasses I hae seen, And mony full as braw; But for a modest gracefu’ mien, The like I never saw.

A bonie lass, I will confess, Is pleasant to the e’e, But without some better qualities, She’s no a lass for me.

But Nelly’s looks are blythe and sweet, And what is best of a’ – Her reputation is complete, And fair without a flaw.

She dresses aye sae clean and neat, Baith decent and genteel: An’ then there’s something in her gait Gars ony dress look weel.

A gaudy dress and gentle air May slightly touch the heart; But it’s innocence and modesty That polishes the dart.

‘T is this in Nelly pleases me, ‘T is this enchants my soul! For absolutely in my breast She reigns without control.


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