Burns Poems

Critical Analysis
To a Mountain Daisy

The Daisy

The verse stanza used is the 'Standard Habbie' from the 17th century poem Habbie Simson the Piper of Kilbarchan by Robert Sempill. Burns had a knowledge of traditional verse forms but used the Standard Habbie so extensively that it has become known as the 'Burns Stanza'

Critics have said that if we compare the wholly successful 'Mouse' with the less successful 'Daisy', we see that Burns tried to repeat the success of the former poem but this time with his eye on the Literati of Edinburgh. Both poems were included in the Kilmarnock Volume.
This poem was written in April 1786 but if the view was to insert this in the Kilmarnock Volume purely for the attention of the literati, was Burns aware, at this time, of the adulation he would receive from them, or even if they would pay any attention to the volume? If so this belittles Burns fierce independence. Furthermore, would he have included the Epistle to Lapraik in the K.V. in which he lambasts the critics who may cock their nose, who ken hardly verse from prose and tell them they are wrong if he was looking with a full view to being accepted by them?

Let us put this poem in context with Burns life at the time of writing. Assuming that the twins from Jean Armour were born at full term she must have conceived towards the end of December 1785. She may not have realised her pregnancy until February 1786. We know Burns was aware of his predicament by 17th Feb when he wrote to John Richmond. What was his reaction to this? The repudiation of Jean is a view based on a letter to James Smith believed to be written around July. In the Spring, Robert was in no fit state to be married. The farm was doing badly and the only solution was to go abroad, make a fortune and then return to make Jean his wife. To this end Robert gave Jean a document constituting some sort of promise. Without going into all the conjecture surrounding this piece of paper we can fast forward to a precise date - the 15th April, when in a letter to Gavin Hamilton he says that old Armour ( Jean's father ) prevailed upon Aiken ( the Ayr lawyer ) to cut the names from the paper. Burns was distraught but he still goes on to forgive the actions of Jean who either was not a party to this act or was forced into it by her father.

We can then see that the the destruction of this letter and the time of writing The Daisy are concurrent.

To a Mountain Daisy
On turning one down with the plough, in April 1786

Verse 1. The stanza moves along with ease and conviction.

Wee, modest, crimson-tipped flow'r
Thou's met me in an evil hour
For I maun crush amang the stoure
Thy slender stem
To spare thee now is past my pow'r
Thou bonie gem

Verse 2. The thought is building up but pause to think how Burns can write so sweetly of nature when his mind must be in turmoil.

Alas! it's no thy neibor sweet
The bonie lark, companion meet
Bending thee 'mang the dewy weet
Wi' spreckl'd breast!
When upward-springing, blythe, to greet
The purpling east

The poem continues building up ( as the mouse did. ) showing the contrast between the the daisy before the plough crushed her and afterwards. The mention of winter strikes the beginnings of a foreboding note.

Cauld blew the bitter-biting north
Upon thy early, humble birth
Yet cheerfully thou glinted forth
Amid the storm
Scarce rear'd above the parent earth
Thy tender form

The flaunting flow'rs our gardens yield
High shelt'ring woods and wa's maun shield
But thou, beneath the random bield
O' clod or stane
Adorns the histie stibble field
Unseen, alane

There, in thy scanty mantle clad
Thy snawie bosom sun-ward spread
Thou lifts thy unassuming head
In humble guise
But now the share uptears thy bed
And low thou lies!

Verse 6. Note the change to Standard English which coincides with change of thought in the poem. The simile of the Daisy to Jean. The whole point of the poem.

Such is the fate of artless maid
Sweet flow'ret of the rural shade!
By love's simplicity betray'd
And guileless trust
Till she, like thee, all soil'd, is laid
Low i' the dust

The poet moves to himself and thus becomes associated with both the daisy and the betrayed girl

Such is the fate of simple bard
On life's rough ocean luckless starr'd
Unskilful he to note the card
Of prudent lore
Till billows rage, and gales blow hard
And whelm him o'er!

The full weight of his predicament is now aired.

Such fate to suffering worth is giv'n
Who long with wants and woes has striv'n
By human pride or cunning driv'n
To mis'ry's brink
Till wrench'd of ev'ry stay but Heav'n
He, ruin'd, sink!

After lamenting his own fate Burns proceeds ( as in Louse and Mouse idiom ) not only to give his readers a moral but to stop this from being purely autobiographical and to make it acceptable to a wider audience.

Ev'n thou who mourn'st the Daisy's fate
That fate is thine, no distant date
Stern Ruin's plough-share drives elate
Full on thy bloom
Till crush'd beneath the furrow's weight
Shall be thy doom

It should be said that the Daisy was accepted by the Edinburgh Literati and received great acclaim and rave reviews. More recent critics have denounced this for being artificial and overly sentimental but when read as a truly autobiographical poem it does put this into an entirely new light and I am indebted to David Brown for pointing out the chronological parallels in his life. In the light of this, the Daisy deserves more attention than it has recently received.

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