Fergusson, Robert

Scotland, (1750-1774)

The Sow of Feeling

Well! I protest there’s no such thing as dealing
With these starch’d poets — with these MEN of FEELING!

    Epilogue to Henry Mackenzie’s The Prince of Tunis.

  1. MALIGNANT planets! do ye still combine
  2. Against this wayward, dreary life of mine!
  3. Has pitiless oppression — (cruel case!)
  4. Gain’d sole possession of the human race?
  5. By cruel hands has ev’ry virtue bled,
  6. And innocence from men to vultures fled!
  7. Thrice happy, had I liv’d in Jewish time,
  8. When swallowing pork or pig was doom’d a crime;
  9. My husband long had blest my longing arms,
  10. Long, long had known love’s sympathetic charms!
  11. My children too — a little suckling race,
  12. With all their father growing in their face,
  13. From their prolific dam had ne’er been torn,
  14. Nor to the bloody stalls of butchers borne.
  15.  
  16. Ah! luxury! to you my being owes
  17. Its load of misery — its load of woes!
  18. With heavy heart, I saunter all the day,
  19. Gruntle and murmur all my hours away!
  20. In vain I try to summon old desire,
  21. For fav’rite sports — for wallowing in the mire:
  22. Thoughts of my husband — of my children slain,
  23. Turn all my wonted pleasure into pain!
  24. How oft did we, in Phœbus warming ray,
  25. Bask on the humid softness of the clay?
  26. Oft did his lusty head defend my tail
  27. From the rude whispers of the angry gale;
  28. While nose-refreshing puddles stream’d around,
  29. And floating odours hail’d the dung-clad ground.
  30.  
  31. Near by a rustic mill’s inchanting clack,
  32. Where plenteous bushels load the peasant’s back,
  33. In straw-crown’d hovel, there to life we came,
  34. One boar our father and one sow our dam:
  35. While tender infants on the mother’s breast,
  36. A flame divine on either shone confest;
  37. In riper hours love’s more than ardent blaze,
  38. Inkindled all his passion, all his praise!
  39. No deadly, sinful passion fir’d his soul,
  40. Virtue o’er all his actions gain’d controul!
  41. That cherub which attracts the female heart,
  42. And makes them soonest with their beauty part,
  43. Attracted mine; — I gave him all my love,
  44. In the recesses of a verdant grove:
  45. ‘Twas there I listn’d to his warmest vows,
  46. Amidst the pendant melancholy boughs;
  47. ‘Twas there my trusty lover shook for me
  48. A show’r of acorns from the oaken tree;
  49. And from the teeming earth, with joy, plough’d out
  50. The roots salubrious with his hardy snout.
  51.  
  52. But Happiness, a floating meteor thou,
  53. That still inconstant art to man and sow,
  54. Left us in gloomiest horrors to reside,
  55. Near by the deep-dy’d sanguinary tide,
  56. Where whetting steel prepares the butch’ring knives,
  57. With greater ease to take the harmless lives
  58. Of cows, and calves, and sheep, and hog, who fear
  59. The bite of bull-dogs, that incessant tear
  60. Their flesh, and keenly suck the blood-distilling ear!
  61. At length the day, th’ eventful day drew near,
  62. Detested cause of many a briny tear!
  63. I’ll weep till sorrow shall my eye-lids drain,
  64. A tender husband, and a brother slain!
  65. Alas! the lovely languor of his eye,
  66. When the base murd’rers bore him captive by!
  67. His mournful voice! the music of his groans,
  68. Had melted any hearts — but hearts of stones!
  69. O! had some angel at that instant come,
  70. Giv’n me four nimble fingers and a thumb,
  71. The blood-stain’d blade I’d turn’d upon his foe,
  72. And sudden sent him to the shades below —
  73. Where, or Pythagoras’ opinion jests,
  74. Beasts are made butchers — butchers chang’d to beasts.
  75.  
  76. In early times the law had wise decreed,
  77. For human food but reptiles few should bleed;
  78. But monstrous man, still erring from the laws,
  79. The curse of heaven on his banquet draws!
  80. Already has he drain’d the marshes dry
  81. For frogs, new emblems of his luxury;
  82. And soon the toad and lizard will come home,
  83. Pure victims to the hungry glutton’s womb:
  84. Cats, rats, and mice, their destiny may mourn,
  85. In time their carcases on spits must turn;
  86. They may rejoice to-day — while I resign
  87. Life, to be number’d ‘mongst the feeling swine.

Robert Fergusson. The Poems of Robert Fergusson, Vol. 1 & 2, edited by Matthew P. McDiarmid. Edinburgh: Scottish Text Society (1957).

About the Poet:

Robert Fergusson (1750-1774) was a Scottish poet. After formal education at the University of St Andrews, Fergusson followed an essentially bohemian lifestyle in Edinburgh, a city then at the height of intellectual and cultural ferment as part of the Scottish enlightenment.

Many of Fergusson’s extant poems were printed from 1771 onwards in Walter Ruddiman’s Weekly Magazine, and a collected works was first published early in 1773. Despite a short life, his career was highly influential, especially through its impact on Robert Burns. Fergusson wrote in both Scottish English and the Scots language, and it is his vivid and masterly writing in the latter leid for which he is principally acclaimed. [DES-07/12]

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