"Though Poor In Gear, We're Rich In Love"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: A soldier's return from the wars has been a theme for poets since wars began. Some poems are sad, because the girl left behind grew tired of waiting. Some are happy. Burns chose to write a happy story about Willie's arrival in "The Sodger's Return" (sometimes reprinted as "The Soldier's Return"). It contains no local color, no clue to what war he has been fighting, and only one geographical identification as the "sodger" (twice rhymed with "lodger") comes back to Scotia, thinking about his Nancy on the banks of the Coil. So it is set in Kyle, a district of Ayrshire named from an ancient Pictish monarch. There are eight stanzas to be sung to the tune of "The Mill Mill O." It takes place "When wild war's deadly blast was blawn,/ And gentle peace returning," and reports the thoughts of a "poor and honest sodger," bringing back nothing but his knapsack because his hands are "unstain'd wi' plunder." Suddenly he sees Nancy down by her mother's dwelling, and has to turn away to conceal the flood of tears welling from his eyes. But he greets her with a joke. "I've serv'd my King and Country lang," he tells her. "Won't you give me shelter?" For a moment, she does not recognize him, but nevertheless welcomes him. "A sodger ance (once) I lo'ed," she replies. "For the sake of that gallant badge, The dear cockade in your hat, I'll gladly give you lodging." Then suddenly recognizing him, she rushes into his arms, with a cry: "Art thou my ain (own) dear Willie?" There is still a moment of suspense. He has to confess that all he can offer her is the richness of his love because his possessions are few. All that a soldier receives for his sacrifices is honor. However, she has good news for him. She is rich. Her grandfather left her gold and a fairly well provided farm. And she'll be glad to share it with a man who was his country's defense in time of danger. The last two stanzas narrate the happy ending.

The wars are o'er, and I'm come hame,
And find thee still true-hearted:
Tho' poor in gear, we're rich in love,
And mair we'se ne'er be parted.
Quo' she, My grandsire left me gowd,
A mailen plenish'd fairly;
And come, my faithful sodger lad,
Thou'rt welcome to it dearly!
For gold the merchant ploughs the main,
The farmer ploughs the manor;
But glory is the sodger's prize;
The sodger's wealth is honor;
The brave poor sodger ne'er despise,
Nor count him as a stranger,
Remember he's his Country's stay
In day and hour of danger.