MS: 'Lament of Mary Queen of Scots on the approach of spring'

Robert Burns, Author 
Object Number:


In this poem, Robert adopts the voice of the tragic Mary Queen of Scots. Mary woes her position in prison and lets her mind drift to past spring seasons and the joys of the countryside. She had hitherto been happy as the Queen of France but now she is imprisoned by her cousin Elizabeth I of England. She hopes that her own infant son (later James VI & I) will fare better than she and yearns to die before another spring begins.

Mary considers the natural world blossoming with the flora and fauna of the new spring burgeoning outside her prison cell while she is wearily confined. She visualises the greenery of the trees, the colourful flowers in the fields and the singing of the larks and blackbirds flying free in the open air.

She continues to detail in her mind the singing of the thrush and the beauty of the wild flowers in the open countryside. She longs for the freedom of the deer to roam across the land while she is held fast in her prison cell. Again she dwells on how happy she had been as Queen of France with her head on a tranquil pillow.

She then complains that although she is the Scottish Sovereign there are traitors there and she has no help while she is in foreign hands. She goes on to upbraid her captor whom she spitefully points out has never suckled a child nor shed a womanly tear. Mary goes on to hope that her infant son (James VI & I) will enjoy happier times when he comes to reign.

Near the end, Mary Queen of Scots hopes that her son is protected from his mother's foes and that if he does come across any of her friends he will acknowledge them on her behalf. Finally Mary longs for a speedy end to her situation; her loss of seeing the dawn, of feeling the wind and fields, she looks forward to the peace of the grave before another spring in her awful confinement.

The original version of this poem was sent to Burns's friend Mrs Dunlop. He intended to visit Mrs Dunlop at her home in Ayrshire on 17th June 1790, and while writing to inform her, he also included this ballad. He had written it only that day and his letter commented 'You know and with me pity the amiable but unfortunate Mary Queen of Scots; to you and your young ladies I particularly dedicate the following stanzas.'

This particular manuscript forms part of the Afton Manuscript collection, a group of Burns later poems which were at that time unpublished. He gifted the volume to Mrs Alexander Stewart of Stair, one of his early supporters, in 1791. On the first leaf Burns wrote a humble introduction to this selection of poetry. Not wishing to publish them, he felt that they might be of interest in this form.

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