Bonie Lesley "To See Her Is To Love Her"
by Robert Burns

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"To See Her Is To Love Her"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Because of the demands on Burns to provide lyrics for songs, he turned every occurrence into an inspiration for a song that went either to James Johnson for his five-volume Scots Musical Museum (1787–1803) or to George Thomson for his six-volume Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs for the Voice (1793–1811). In these two publications can be found 268 such beautiful songs as "Flow Gently Sweet Afton," "John Anderson, My Jo," and "My Heart's in the Highland." One day a friend, Mr. Bailie of Ayrshire, stopped to visit Burns at Dumfries, on his way to England. Two of his daughters came with him. Burns was always a man moved by feminine beauty, and Miss Lesley Bailie especially attracted him. When they left, he saddled his horse and accompanied them a dozen miles along their journey. Then he told them goodbye and rode slowly homeward, composing a song to the clack of his horse's hoofs. He called it "Bonie Leslie," with "Bonie" rhyming with "Caledonie." He always spelled the word that way in the titles for a dozen other songs, and left it for other Scots to write of Bonnie Annie Laurie or Bonnie Prince Charlie. Its tune is "The Collier's bonie Dochter." At first, Burns compares her to Alexander the Great, seeking new worlds to conquer. "Sic anither" is "such another." "Deil" is "devil." In "belang" and "wrang," the Scotch dialect substitutes "a" for "o." Some one has commented that Burns' waning popularity is due to the fact that to understand and appreciate him, a reader has to learn the Scotch dialect. However, only a little imagination is necessary to read most of his poetry. Here are stanzas one, two, four, and six of "Bonie Lesley"

O saw ye bonie Lesley
As she gaed o'er the border?
She's gane, like Alexander,
To spread her conquests farther.
To see her is to love her,
And love but her for ever;
For Nature made her what she is,
And ne'er made sic anither!
. . .
The Deil he could na scaith thee,
Or aught that wad belang thee;
He'd look into thy bonie face,
And say, "I canna wrang thee."
. . .
Return again, Fair Lesley,
Return to Caledonie!
That we may brag, we hae a lass
There's nane again sae bonie.