Let’s turn our attention to Burns himself. Robert Burns (25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796), also known as Rabbie Burns, was born in Alloway. He was only 37 when he died in Dumfries. Burns’s parents were farming folk. Despite their poor means, they made sure that Robert received an education. The farm did not pay its way and failed to prosper after his parents’ death when Robert became its tenant. After an unhappy romance with Jean Armour, he contemplated going to Jamaica for work, but couldn’t raise the funds. He spent just over a year between 1786 and 1788 in Edinburgh, where he made some money from his poems and songs. Increasing fame came his way during this period. While in Edinburgh, Burns embarked on a number of affairs, including one with Agnes “Nancy” McLehose. It is probably this Nancy who features in the poem Thou Gloomy December. If you click or tap the icon below, you should be able to hear yours truly reading the poem.
The language of the poem is not anywhere near as difficult as, for example, Address to a Haggis. I have changed very few words in the translation that follows.
Thou Gloomy December
Once more I hail thee, thou gloomy December!
Once more I hail thee, with sorrow and care;
Sad was the parting thou makes me remember
Parting with Nancy, oh, ne’er to meet more!
Fond lovers’ parting is sweet, painful pleasure,
Hope beaming mild on the soft parting hour;
But the dire feeling, O farewell for ever!
Is anguish unmingled, and agony pure!
Wild as the winter now tearing the forest,
Till the last leaf o’ the summer is flown;
Such is the tempest has shaken my bosom,
Till my last hope and last comfort is gone.
Still as I hail thee, thou gloomy December,
Still shall I hail thee, wi’ sorrow and care;
For sad was the parting thou makes me remember,
Parting wi’ Nancy, oh, ne’er to meet more.