‘My father was a farmer upon the Carrick border, O, / And carefully he bred me in decency and order, O’: so begins this poem, ‘My Father Was a Farmer’, written to the tune of ‘The Weaver and His Shuttle, O’, in which Robert Burns (1759-96) reflects on the fact that he, like his father, was bred for labour and toil.
My Father Was a Farmer
My father was a farmer upon the Carrick border, O,
And carefully he bred me in decency and order, O;
He bade me act a manly part, though I had ne’er a farthing, O;
For without an honest manly heart, no man was worth regarding, O.
Then out into the world my course I did determine, O;
Tho’ to be rich was not my wish, yet to be great was charming, O;
My talents they were not the worst, nor yet my education, O:
Resolv’d was I at least to try to mend my situation, O.
In many a way, and vain essay, I courted Fortune’s favour, O;
Some cause unseen still stept between, to frustrate each endeavour, O;
Sometimes by foes I was o’erpower’d, sometimes by friends forsaken, O;
And when my hope was at the top, I still was worst mistaken, O.
Then sore harass’d and tir’d at last, with Fortune’s vain delusion, O,
I dropt my schemes, like idle dreams, and came to this conclusion, O;
The past was bad, and the future hid, its good or ill untried, O;
But the present hour was in my pow’r, and so I would enjoy it, O.
No help, nor hope, nor view had I, nor person to befriend me, O;
So I must toil, and sweat, and moil, and labour to sustain me, O;
To plough and sow, to reap and mow, my father bred me early, O;
For one, he said, to labour bred, was a match for Fortune fairly, O.
Thus all obscure, unknown, and poor, thro’ life I’m doom’d to wander, O,
Till down my weary bones I lay in everlasting slumber, O:
No view nor care, but shun whate’er might breed me pain or sorrow, O;
I live to-day as well’s I may, regardless of to-morrow, O.
But cheerful still, I am as well as a monarch in his palace, O,
Tho’ Fortune’s frown still hunts me down, with all her wonted malice, O:
I make indeed my daily bread, but ne’er can make it farther, O:
But as daily bread is all I need, I do not much regard her, O.
When sometimes by my labour, I earn a little money, O,
Some unforeseen misfortune comes gen’rally upon me, O;
Mischance, mistake, or by neglect, or my goodnatur’d folly, O:
But come what will, I’ve sworn it still, I’ll ne’er be melancholy, O.
All you who follow wealth and power with unremitting ardour, O,
The more in this you look for bliss, you leave your view the farther, O:
Had you the wealth Potosi boasts, or nations to adore you, O,
A cheerful honest-hearted clown I will prefer before you, O.
If you enjoyed ‘My Father Was a Farmer’, you might also like our pick of Burns’s best poems.