"Loved At Home, Revered Abroad"
Context: Burns was writing from personal experience about the daily life of the hard-working Scotch farmers, in this description of a weekend. He was born in a clay cottage, and his early life was devoted to the back-breaking labor he describes. The poem itself is a tribute to his own father, the industrious William Burnes, as he spelled his name. Father of seven, always in debt because of unfertile land and high rent, he still managed to provide his children–of whom Robert was the oldest–with some education. The meter is the Spenserian stanza of the sixteenth century Elizabethan poet, Edmund Spenser. It tells of a poor family home together for the Sabbath. The children have returned from working out among the neighbors. Jenny, the oldest, is there to help with the chores. The mother will be ready to mend clothes, and the father, as the head of the family, will provide the religious atmosphere that has made Scotland great. Gilbert, the poet's brother, recorded that this poem grew from Robert's feeling of something particularly venerable in the phrase "Let us worship God," uttered by a decent, sober head of a family as introduction to family worship. This is the picture painted in stanza 12, as "The cheerfu' supper done, wi' serious face/ They, round the ingle, form a circle wide,/ The sire turns o'er, wi' patriarchal grace,/ The big ha'-Bible, ance his father's pride." Then he picks out a Scriptural passage with judicial care, "And 'Let us worship God!' he says with solemn air." After the Scripture reading and the prayer, the group disbands, each going his separate way. Such scenes, says Burns, are the basis for Scotland's grandeur. To describe their effect upon home folk and foreigners, the poet contrasts their feelings using two verbs. Those at home feel love and a personal affection, while the rest of the world looks at Scotia (Scotland) with respect and esteem. Quoting Pope's Essay on Man that "an honest man is the noblest work of God," Burns believes it is easier to find the road to heaven from a humble cottage than from a palace. The third stanza from the end of the poem declares:
From scenes like these old Scotia's grandeur springs,That makes her lov'd at home, rever'd abroad:Princes and lords are but the breath of kings,"An honest man's the noblest work of God:"And certes, in fair virtue's heavenly road,The cottage leaves the palace far behind;What is a lordling's pomp? a cumbrous load,Disguising oft the wretch of human kind,Studied in arts of hell, in wickedness refin'd.