Man Was Made To Mourn "Man's Inhumanity To Man"

Robert Burns

"Man's Inhumanity To Man"

Context: Robert Burns was born in a rural Scotland still crushed under the heel of feudalism. His tenant-farmer father had no means of rising or of lifting the yoke of grinding labor from the shoulders of his gifted son. And though Burns became a published poet accepted by Edinburgh society, he died still oppressed by want. It is not surprising that he wrote poems of such deep personal despondency and social rebellion as "Man Was Made to Mourn"; the wonder is that he wrote so much that has true humor and mirth. In this poem, based on a folk song his mother sang, the poet is stopped on a cold evening's walk by an aged mourner of human miseries. Man, says the old stranger, is beset in youth by folly and in age by want. He must labor by the hundreds to support one haughty lord who may even deny him the privilege to earn bread. If, asks the old man, I was born this lord's slave, why was I given the idea of freedom? If I was not, why am I helpless against his cruelty? Finally the old man consoles the youth with the thought that death is the recompense for want, for while it is dreaded by the rich, it comes as welcome to the poor. In one stanza the white-haired sage declares:

Many and sharp the num'rous ills
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves,
Regret, remorse, and shame!
And man, whose Heaven-erected face
The smiles of love adorn,
Man's inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!