The Cotter's Saturday Night "Princes And Lords Are But The Breath Of Kings"

Robert Burns

"Princes And Lords Are But The Breath Of Kings"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The family gathered on Saturday night in an humble farm cottage was a scene Burns knew well from his own childhood as the oldest son of a tenant farmer. This was their gathering time, for Sunday marked their only break in unremitting toil. The poem opens with the old father leaving his fields to join his young children by the fireside. Presently his oldest offspring come for their weekly visit from their places of work as domestics and farm laborers. While they exchange news of each other, the mother mends worn clothing, and the father injects an occasional moral admonition. The parents are flustered when a young man comes to call on the oldest daughter, but they find him acceptable, and he joins in their frugal supper. After eating, they hold family worship, then the children who are working leave. The scene closes with the prayers of the parents. In a final comment on this family occasion, Burns declares, using a quotation from Pope, that from such humble origins comes Scotland's glory, for

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!