MS: 'The Vision, Duan First and Duan Second'

Robert Burns, Author 
Object Number:


On a weary winter's evening, Burns looks back on a life wasted, including his 'blethers ...... in rhyme', but just as he is about to abandon poetry forever, a Scottish Muse comes to him, providing visions of Scotland and its heroes who inspire him to carry on.

The first part, or 'Duan' of the poem, starts after the close of a hard days' threshing. Contemplating the winter outside and his situation, Burns sits pensive and lonely by the smoking fire, looking back on time wasted with only worthless rhymes to show for it. He regrets the good advice he didn't take which might have led him to prosperity.

Burns continues with the contrast between what might have been and his miserable situation. Instead of having a cash-account, he is 'half-mad, half-fed, half-sarket'. He calls himself a fool, and jumps up swearing to abandon poetry. Suddenly the door opens wide and a beautiful young woman wearing a wreath of holly enters, lit by the now blazing fire. He recognised her as a Scottish Muse come to stop him making a vow he would not keep.

Burns describes the beautiful Muse, touched by poetry and with sentiment, passion, imagination and honour in her form. Her tartan dress gives a glimpse of a fine leg, while her green cloak seems to be Ayrshire, forming rivers, mountains and the sea. The rivers Doon and Irvine flow on the cloak. Burns sees the river Ayr and lesser torrents upon the Muse's cloak, and then the borough of Ayr itself, with people bred to virtue. By local landmarks heroes could be seen - with the heroic race of Wallace beating back their English foes. Burns uses larger writing and notes to identify the glorious Wallaces - the 'Country's Saviour' being William Wallace. Burns completes his description of the glorious Wallaces.

Then follow three verses, found only in this manuscript, describing his birthplace Alloway and the lands and noble families of Kyle, the surrounding area. The poem then returns to the usual version with the grave of Coilus, 'sceptr'd Pictish shade', who gave his name to Kyle. Burns continues his roll call of the noble families of Ayrshire, many of whom were well known to him - the Montgomeries of Coilsfield march past, with, here, an additional verse on Hugh Montgomerie. The 'aged Judge' is Sir Thomas Miller of Barskimming, Lord Justice Clerk. The poem continues with verses found only in this manuscript, referring to Auchinleck, home of Alexander Boswell and the home of the Whitefords, Ballochmyle.

Continuing the same theme, the final two pages of Duan first are missing, containing nine verses, seven of which do not exist in any other manuscript. Here Burns includes only two verses of Duan Second, as, he writes, the rest can be found in print. In this second section of the poem the Muse, Coila, speaks to Burns, describes the inspiration of muses to all men of Scotland. She has watched over him with hope from his earliest days, inspired by the land, love and passion, and guided him. He may never equal his poetic heroes, but should strive to shine in his humble sphere and be true to poetry, bringing a rustic bard greater bliss than riches or a king's favour.

Burns worked hard and long throughout his life, producing his huge output of poems and songs between farming and later excise duties. The Vision clearly evokes this contrast between the hardship of his life and the breadth of his inspiration. The poem forms part of the Stair manuscript collection, a group of eight early songs and poems Burns copied and sent to Mrs Alexander Stewart of Stair in 1786.

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