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Helen Darbishire and Ernest De Selincourt (eds), The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth, Vol. 3: Miscellaneous Sonnets; Memorials of Various Tours; Poems to National Independence and Liberty; The Egyptian Maid; The River Duddon Series; The White Doe and Other Narrative Poems; Ecclesiastical Sonnets (Second Edition)

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Editor’s NoteEditor’s NoteIVTO THE SONS OF BURNS,after visiting the grave of their father

[Stanzas ii, iii, iv, viii composed between June, 1805 and February, 1806, and published 1807: Stanzas i, v, vi, vii added 1827.]

"The Poet's grave is in a corner of the churchyard. We looked at it with melancholy and painful reflections, repeating to each other his own verses—'Is there a man whose judgment clear,' etc."—Extract from the Journal of my Fellow-traveller.

  • Critical Apparatus1"Mid crowded obelisks and urns
  • 2I sought the untimely grave of Burns;
  • 3Sons of the Bard, my heart still mourns
  • 4        With sorrow true;
  • 5And more would grieve, but that it turns
  • 6        Trembling to you!
  • Critical Apparatus7Through twilight shades of good and ill
  • 8Ye now are panting up life's hill,
  • 9And more than common strength and skill
  • 10        Must ye display;
  • 11If ye would give the better will
  • 12        Its lawful sway.
  • pg 70Critical Apparatus13Hath Nature strung your nerves to bear
  • 14Intemperance with less harm, beware!
  • Critical Apparatus15But if the Poet's wit ye share,
  • Critical Apparatus16        Like him can speed
  • 17The social hour—of tenfold care
  • 18        There will be need;
  • Critical Apparatus19For honest men delight will take
  • 20To spare your failings for his sake,
  • 21Will flatter you,—and fool and rake
  • 22        Your steps pursue;
  • 23And of your Father's name will make
  • 24        A snare for you.
  • Critical Apparatus25Far from their noisy haunts retire,
  • 26And add your voices to the quire
  • 27That sanctify the cottage fire
  • 28        With service meet;
  • 29There seek the genius of your Sire,
  • 30        His spirit greet;
  • Editor’s Note31Or where, 'mid "lonely heights and hows,"
  • 32He paid to Nature tuneful vows;
  • 33Or wiped his honourable brows
  • 34        Bedewed with toil,
  • 35While reapers strove, or busy ploughs
  • 36        Upturned the soil;
  • 37His judgment with benignant ray
  • 38Shall guide, his fancy cheer, your way;
  • 39But ne'er to a seductive lay
  • 40        Let faith be given;
  • Editor’s Note41Nor deem that "light which leads astray,
  • 42        Is light from Heaven."
  • pg 7143Let no mean hope your souls enslave;
  • 44Be independent, generous, brave;
  • 45Your Father such example gave,
  • 46        And such revere;
  • 47But be admonished by his grave,
  • 48        And think, and fear!

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
p. 69. IV. To the Sons of Burns: "See, in connection with these verses, two other Poems upon Burns, one composed actually at the time [i.e. No. II], and the other [III], though then felt, not put into words till several years afterwards."—I. F. The date of the composition of stanzas 2, 3, 4, 8 is fixed by the fact that they are not included in the first copy of D. W.'s Recollections of a Tour in Scotland, which was finished on May 31, 1805, but are found first in the second, which was begun in the following November, and finished on Feb. 21, 1806 (v. my Life of D. W., pp. 405–7, and Journals of D. W., vol. I, p. 202). In the Recollections, under Aug. 18, 1803, we read: "The grave of Burns's son, which we had just seen by the side of his father, and some stories heard at Dumfries respecting the dangers his surviving children were exposed to, filled us with melancholy concern, which had a kind of connection with ourselves."
In 1815–20 the poem was placed among Poems of Sentiment and Reflection.
Critical Apparatus
IV. 1–6 not in MS.-1820.
Critical Apparatus
7–8 so 1827:
  • Ye now are panting up life's hill!
  • 'Tis twilight time of good and ill
Critical Apparatus
13–18 not in 1820
Critical Apparatus
13 Strong bodied if ye be to bear MS-1815
Critical Apparatus
15 the Poet's so 1827: your Father's MS.-1815
Critical Apparatus
16–17 so 1827 (but for for of 1827–37): Then, then indeed, Ye Sons of Burns! for watchful care MS.-1815
Critical Apparatus
19–21 so 1827, but Even for For 1827–37:
  • For honest men delight will take
  • To shew you favor for his sake,
  • Will MS.-1815
  • For their beloved Poet's sake,
  • Even honest men delight will take
  • To
Critical Apparatus
25–42 not in MS.-1820
Editor’s Note
31. "lonely heights and hows" and 35, busy ploughs] from Burns, Epistle to James Smith, stanza ix.
Editor’s Note
41–2. light … heaven ] from Burns. The Vision, Duan II, stanza xviii:
  • But yet the light that led astray
  • Was light from Heaven.
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