Robert Burns

A Fragment [On Glenriddel's Fox breaking his chain]

written in 1795

Thou, Liberty, thou art my theme; Not such as idle Poets dream, Who trick thee up a Heathen goddess That a fantastic cap and rod has: Such stale conceits are poor and silly; I paint thee out, a Highland filly, A sturdy, stubborn, handsome dapple, As sleek's a mouse, as round's an apple, That when thou pleasest can do wonders; But when thy luckless rider blunders, Or if thy fancy should demur there, Wilt break thy neck ere thou go further. These things premis'd, I sing a fox, Was caught among his native rocks, And to a dirty kennel chain'd, How he his liberty regain'd. Glenriddel, a Whig without a stain, A Whig in principle and grain, Couldst thou enslave a free-born creature, A native denizen of Nature? How couldst thou with a heart so good, (A better ne'er was sluic'd with blood) Nail a poor devil to a tree, That ne'er did harm to thine or thee? The staunchest Whig Glenriddel was, Quite frantic in his Country's cause; And oft was Reynard's prison passing, And with his brother Whigs canvassing The Rights of Men, the Powers of Women, With all the dignity of Freemen. Sir Reynard daily heard debates Of Princes' kings' and Nations' fates; With many rueful, bloody stories Of tyrants, Jacobites and tories: From liberty how angels fell, That now are galley-slaves in hell; How Nimrod first the trade began Of binding Slavery's chains on Man; How fell Semiramis, God damn her! Did first with sacreligious hammer, (All ills till then were trivial matters) For Man dethron'd forge hen-peck fetters; How Xerxes, that abandon'd tory, Thought cutting throats was reaping glory, Untill the stubborn Whits of Sparta Taught him great Nature's Magna charta; How mighty Rome her fiat hurl'd, Resistless o'er a bowing world, And kinder than they did desire, Polish'd mankind with sword and fire: With much too tedious to relate, Of ancient and of Modern date, But ending still how Billy Pit, (Unlucky boy!) with wicked wit, Has gagg'd old Britain, drain'd her coffer, As butchers bind and bleed a heifer. Thus wily Reynard by degrees, In kennel listening at his ease, Suck'd in a mighty stock of knowledge, As much as some folks at a college. Knew Britain's rights and constitution, Her aggrandizement, diminution, How fortune wrought us good from evil; Let no man then despise the devil, As who should say, I ne'er can need him; Since we to scoundrels owe our freedom.

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