To a Mountain Daisy
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The poem tells of how the poet, while out with the plough, discovers that he has crushed a daisy's stem. It is similar in some respects to his poem To a Mouse, published in the previous year. In ploughing a field in the early morning, there must have been hundreds of small flowers that were turned down by the plough and why Burns was taken with this particular specimen is a mystery.
In a similar way from To a Mouse, Burns compares the daisy's fate to that of humankind, first, in verse six, to a young girl taken in by her lover and then, in verse seven, to himself. The final stanza is in some ways reminiscent of Andrew Marvell's poem To His Coy Mistress:
But at my back I always hear
Time's wingèd chariot drawing near;
We can perhaps sense that Robert Burns is beginning to appreciate of his own mortality.
This poem is used in some schools, poem, writing and art competitions.
The modern translation of the poem is as follows:
Small, modest, crimson-tipped flower, You have met me in an evil hour; For I must crush among the dust Your slender stem: To spare you now is past my power, You lovely gem.
Alas it is not your neighbour sweet, The bonny lark, companion meet, Bending you among the dewy wet, With speckled breast! When upward springing, blithe, to greet The purpling east.
Cold blew the bitter-biting north Upon your early, humble birth; Yet cheerfully you sparkled forth Amid the storm, Scarce reared above the parent-earth Your tender form.
The flaunting flowers our gardens yield, High sheltering woods and walls must shield; But you, beneath the random shelter Of clod or stone, Adorns the bare stubble field, Unseen, alone.
There, in your scanty mantle clad, Your snowy bosom sun-ward spread, You lift your unassuming head In humble guise; But now the plough-share tears up your bed, And low you lie!
Such is the fate of artless maid, Sweet floweret of the rural shade! By loves simplicity betrayed, And guileless trust; Until she, like you, all soiled, is laid Low in the dust.
Such is the fate of simple Bard, On Life's rough ocean luckless starred! Unskilled he to note the card Of prudent lore, Till billows rage, and gales blow hard, And whelm him over'.
Such fate to suffering Worth is given, Who long with wants and woes has striven, By human pride or cunning driven To miseries brink; Till, wretched of every stay but Heaven, He, ruined, sink!
Even you who mourns the Daisy's fate, That fate is yours - no distant date; Stern Ruin's plough-share drives elate, Full on your bloom, Till crushed beneath the furrow's weight Shall be your doom!
The Original Poem
To a Mountain Daisy: On turning one down with the plough in April 1786
Wee, modest, crimson-tipped flow'r,
Thou's met me in an evil hour;
For I maun crush amang the stoure
Thy slender stem:
To spare thee now is past my pow'r,
Thou bonie gem.
Alas! it's no thy neebor sweet,
The bonie lark, companion meet!
Bending thee 'mang the dewy weet!
Wi' spreckl'd breast,
When upward-springing, blythe, to greet
The purpling east.
Cauld blew the bitter-biting north
Upon thy early, humble birth;
Yet cheerfully thou glinted forth
Amid the storm,
Scarce rear'd above the Parent-earth
Thy tender form.
The flaunting flow'rs our gardens yield,
High shelt'ring woods and wa's maun shield;
But thou, beneath the random bield
O' clod or stane,
Adorns the histie stibble-field,
There, in thy scanty mantle clad,
Thy snawie bosom sun-ward spread,
Thou lifts thy unassuming head
In humble guise;
But now the share uptears thy bed,
And low thou lies!
Such is the fate of artless Maid,
Sweet flow'ret of the rural shade!
By love's simplicity betray'd,
And guileless trust;
Till she, like thee, all soil'd, is laid
Low i' the dust.
Such is the fate of 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 giv'n,
Who long with wants and woes has striv'n,
By human pride or cunning driv'n,
To mis'rys brink,
Till, wrench'd of ev'ry stay but Heav'n,
He, ruin'd, sink!
Ev'n thou, who mourn'st the Daisy's fate,
That fate is thine — no distant date;
Stern Ruin's plough-share drives, elate,
Full on thy bloom,
Till crush'd beneath the furrow's weight,
Shall be thy doom!