'Holy Fair, The' by Robert Burns

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1Upon a simmer Sunday morn,
2When Nature's face is fair,
3I walked forth to view the corn
4An' snuff the caller air.
5The risin' sun owre Galston muirs
6Wi' glorious light was glintin,
7The hares were hirplin down the furrs,
8The lav'rocks they were chantin
9Fu' sweet that day.

10As lightsomely I glowr'd abroad
11To see a scene sae gay,
12Three hizzies, early at the road,
13Cam skelpin up the way.
14Twa had manteeles o' dolefu' black,
15But ane wi' lyart linin;
16The third, that gaed a wee a-back,
17Was in the fashion shining
18Fu' gay that day.

19The twa appear'd like sisters twin
20In feature, form, an' claes;
21Their visage wither'd, lang an' thin,
22An' sour as ony slaes.
23The third cam up, hap-step-an'-lowp,
24As light as ony lambie,
25An' wi' a curchie low did stoop,
26As soon as e'er she saw me,
27Fu' kind that day.

28Wi' bonnet aff, quoth I, "Sweet lass,
29I think ye seem to ken me;
30I'm sure I've seen that bonie face,
31But yet I canna name ye."
32Quo' she, an' laughin as she spak,
33An' taks me by the han's,
34"Ye, for my sake, hae gien the feck
35Of a' the ten comman's
36A screed some day.

37"My name is Fun--your cronie dear,
38The nearest friend ye hae;
39An' this is Superstition here,
40An' that's Hypocrisy.
41I'm gaun to Mauchline Holy Fair,
42To spend an hour in daffin:
43Gin ye'll go there, you runkl'd pair,
44We will get famous laughin
45At them this day."

46Quoth I, "With a' my heart, I'll do't:
47I'll get my Sunday's sark on,
48An' meet you on the holy spot;
49Faith, we'se hae fine remarkin!"
50Then I gaed hame at crowdie-time
51An' soon I made me ready;
52For roads were clad frae side to side
53Wi' monie a wearie body
54In droves that day.

55Here, farmers gash, in ridin graith,
56Gaed hoddin by their cotters,
57There swankies young, in braw braidclaith
58Are springin owre the gutters.
59The lasses, skelpin barefit, thrang,
60In silks an' scarlets glitter,
61Wi' sweet-milk cheese in mony a whang,
62An' farls, bak'd wi' butter,
63Fu' crump that day.

64When by the plate we set our nose,
65Weel heaped up wi' ha'pence,
66A greedy glowr Black Bonnet throws,
67An' we maun draw our tippence.
68Then in we go to see the show:
69On ev'ry side they're gath'rin,
70Some carryin dails, some chairs an' stools,
71An' some are busy bleth'rin
72Right loud that day.


82Here some are thinkin on their sins,
83An' some upo' their claes;
84Ane curses feet that fyl'd his shins,
85Anither sighs an' prays:
86On this hand sits a chosen swatch,
87Wi' screw'd-up grace-proud faces;
88On that a set o' chaps at watch,
89Thrang winkin on the lasses
90To chairs that day.

91O happy is that man and blest!
92Nae wonder that it pride him!
93Whase ain dear lass that he likes best,
94Comes clinkin down beside him!
95Wi' arm repos'd on the chair back,
96He sweetly does compose him;
97Which by degrees slips round her neck,
98An's loof upon her bosom,
99Unken'd that day.

100 Now a' the congregation o'er
101Is silent expectation;
102 For Moodie speels the holy door,
103Wi' tidings o' salvation.
104 Should Hornie, as in ancient days,
105'Mang sons o' God present him,
106 The vera sight o' Moodie's face
107To's ain het hame had sent him
108Wi' fright that day.

109 Hear how he clears the points o' faith
110Wi' rattlin an' wi' thumpin!
111 Now meekly calm, now wild in wrath
112He's stampin, an' he's jumpin!
113 His lengthen'd chin, his turn'd-up snout,
114His eldritch squeal and gestures,
115 Oh, how they fire the heart devout
116Like cantharidian plaisters,
117On sic a day!

118 But hark! the tent has chang'd its voice:
119There's peace and rest nae langer;
120 For a' the real judges rise,
121They canna sit for anger.
122 Smith opens out his cauld harangues,
123On practice and on morals;
124 An' aff the godly pour in thrangs,
125To gie the jars an' barrels
126A lift that day.

127 What signifies his barren shine
128Of moral pow'rs and reason?
129 His English style an' gesture fine
130Are a' clean out o' season.
131 Like Socrates or Antonine
132Or some auld pagan heathen,
133 The moral man he does define,
134But ne'er a word o' faith in
135That's right that day.

136 In guid time comes an antidote
137Against sic poison'd nostrum;
138 For Peebles, frae the water-fit,
139Ascends the holy rostrum:
140 See, up he's got the word o' God
141An' meek an' mim has view'd it,
142 While Common Sense has ta'en the road,
143An's aff, an' up the Cowgate
144Fast, fast that day.

145 Wee Miller niest the Guard relieves,
146An' Orthodoxy raibles,
147 Tho' in his heart he weel believes
148An' thinks it auld wives' fables:
149 But faith! the birkie wants a Manse,
150So cannilie he hums them;
151 Altho' his carnal wit an' sense
152Like hafflins-wise o'ercomes him
153At times that day.

154 Now butt an' ben the change-house fills
155Wi' yill-caup commentators:
156 Here's cryin out for bakes an gills,
157An' there the pint-stowp clatters;
158 While thick an' thrang, an' loud an' lang,
159Wi' logic an' wi' Scripture,
160 They raise a din, that in the end
161Is like to breed a rupture
162O' wrath that day.

163 Leeze me on drink! it gies us mair
164Than either school or college
165 It kindles wit, it waukens lear,
166It pangs us fou o' knowledge.
167 Be't whisky-gill or penny-wheep,
168Or ony stronger potion,
169 It never fails, on drinkin deep,
170To kittle up our notion
171By night or day.

172 The lads an' lasses, blythely bent
173To mind baith saul an' body,
174 Sit round the table weel content,
175An' steer about the toddy,
176 On this ane's dress an' that ane's leuk
177They're makin observations;
178 While some are cozie i' the neuk,
179An' forming assignations
180To meet some day.

181 But now the Lord's ain trumpet touts,
182Till a' the hills rae rairin,
183 An' echoes back return the shouts--
184Black Russell is na sparin.
185 His piercing words, like highlan' swords,
186Divide the joints an' marrow;
187 His talk o' hell, whare devils dwell,
188Our vera "sauls does harrow"
189Wi' fright that day.

190 A vast, unbottom'd, boundless pit,
191Fill'd fou o' lowin brunstane,
192 Whase ragin flame, an' scorching heat
193Wad melt the hardest whun-stane!
194 The half-asleep start up wi' fear
195An' think they hear it roarin,
196 When presently it does appear
197'Twas but some neibor snorin,
198Asleep that day.

199 'Twad be owre lang a tale to tell,
200How mony stories past,
201 An' how they crouded to the yill,
202When they were a' dismist:
203 How drink gaed round in cogs an' caups
204Amang the furms an' benches:
205 An' cheese and bred frae women's laps
206Was dealt about in lunches
207An' dauds that day.

208 In comes a gausie, gash guidwife
209An' sits down by the fire,
210 Syne draws her kebbuck an' her knife;
211The lasses they are shyer:
212 The auld guidmen, about the grace
213Frae side to side they bother,
214 Till some ane by his bonnet lays,
215And gi'es them't like a tether
216Fu' lang that day.

217 Waesucks! for him that gets nae lass,
218Or lasses that hae naething!
219 Sma' need has he to say a grace,
220Or melvie his braw clathing!
221 O wives, be mindfu' ance yoursel
222How bonie lads ye wanted,
223 An' dinna for a kebbuck-heel
224Let lasses be affronted
225On sic a day!

226 Now Clinkumbell, wi' rattlin tow,
227Begins to jow an' croon;
228 Some swagger hame the best they dow,
229Some wait the afternoon.
230 At slaps the billies halt a blink,
231Till lasses strip their shoon:
232 Wi' faith an' hope, an' love an' drink,
233They're a' in famous tune
234For crack that day.

235 How monie hearts this day converts
236O' sinners and o' lasses
237 Their hearts o' stane, gin night, are gane
238As saft as ony flesh is.
239 There's some are fou o' love divine,
240There's some are fou o' brandy;
241 An' monie jobs that day begin,
242May end in houghmagandie
243Some ither day.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Holy Fair: A Critical Analysis of Robert Burns' Poetic Masterpiece

As one of the most celebrated poets of his time, Robert Burns left an indelible mark on the world of literature with his poetry. One of his most famous works is the poem Holy Fair, which depicts a religious fair in Scotland in the late 18th century. In this literary criticism, we will delve deep into the themes, language, and structure of Holy Fair and explore how Burns captures the essence of Scottish culture and society during his time.

The Poem's Themes

The central theme of Holy Fair is the juxtaposition of the religious and the profane. Burns presents a vivid picture of a religious fair where people come to worship and pray, but at the same time indulge in drinking, dancing, and other earthly pleasures. This contrast between the sacred and the secular is evident throughout the poem, as Burns describes the various sights and sounds of the fair.

Another major theme of the poem is the hypocrisy of the church and its leaders. Burns is critical of the religious establishment, which he sees as corrupt and self-serving. He mocks the preachers and ministers who exhort people to repent their sins, while at the same time indulging in their own immoral behavior. The poet's skepticism of organized religion is evident in his depiction of the fair as a place where people come to show off their piety, rather than truly seek redemption.

Finally, Holy Fair is a commentary on Scottish society and culture. Burns portrays a world in which the divisions between the rich and the poor are stark, and where people are judged by their wealth and social status. The fair is a microcosm of this society, where the wealthy and the powerful come to flaunt their privilege, while the poor struggle to make ends meet. Through his poetry, Burns exposes the inequality and injustice that pervades Scottish society, and calls for a more equitable and just social order.

The Poet's Language

One of the most striking aspects of Holy Fair is Burns' use of language. His poetry is characterized by its vivid imagery, its use of dialect, and its blend of humor and satire. Burns' language is infused with the rhythms and textures of Scottish speech, and he revels in the idiosyncrasies of his native tongue.

The use of dialect in the poem is particularly noteworthy. Burns employs a variety of Scottish dialects to capture the nuances of speech and accent in different parts of the country. This gives the poem a sense of authenticity and immediacy, and allows the reader to experience the fair and its characters in a more visceral way.

Burns' use of humor and satire is also a defining feature of his poetry. He is a master of irony and sarcasm, and he uses these tools to skewer the religious establishment and the social elite. His satire is both biting and playful, and he delights in poking fun at the foibles and shortcomings of his fellow Scots.

The Poem's Structure

Holy Fair is a lyric poem that consists of six stanzas, each with six lines. The rhyme scheme is ABABCC, and the meter is irregular, with lines of varying length and syllable count. This gives the poem a sense of musicality and fluidity, and allows the poet to play with the rhythms and cadences of language.

The poem is divided into two parts, with the first three stanzas describing the sights and sounds of the fair, and the last three stanzas offering a commentary on the proceedings. This structure allows Burns to build up a rich and detailed picture of the fair, before turning his critical gaze upon it.


On a deeper level, Holy Fair can be seen as a commentary on human nature and the human condition. Burns portrays a world in which people are torn between their desire for spiritual fulfillment and their instinctual drive for pleasure and enjoyment. The fair becomes a metaphor for the struggle between the sacred and the profane, and Burns suggests that this struggle is an inherent part of the human experience.

At the same time, the poem is a call to action, urging readers to challenge the status quo and work towards a more just and equitable society. Burns is critical of the religious and social hierarchies that dominate Scottish society, and he calls for a more egalitarian and democratic social order. His poetry is a powerful indictment of the injustices and inequalities of his time, and a rallying cry for change and reform.


In Holy Fair, Robert Burns has created a masterpiece of Scottish poetry that captures the essence of his country and his people. Through his use of language, structure, and imagery, he paints a vivid picture of a religious fair that is both sacred and profane, and uses this as a lens through which to view Scottish society as a whole. His poetry is a powerful critique of the religious and social hierarchies that dominated his time, and a call to action for a more just and equitable society.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Holy Fair: A Masterpiece of Robert Burns

Robert Burns, the national poet of Scotland, is known for his exceptional contribution to the world of literature. His works are a reflection of his life, his culture, and his beliefs. One of his most famous works is "The Holy Fair," a poem that depicts the religious fervor of the Scottish people during the 18th century. This poem is a masterpiece that showcases Burns' poetic genius and his ability to capture the essence of his society.

"The Holy Fair" is a satirical poem that describes a religious gathering in Mauchline, a small town in Scotland. The poem is divided into four parts, each of which describes a different aspect of the fair. The first part introduces the reader to the fair and the people who attend it. Burns describes the scene as a bustling market, with people from all walks of life coming together to celebrate their faith. He uses vivid imagery to paint a picture of the fair, describing the sights, sounds, and smells that fill the air.

In the second part of the poem, Burns introduces the reader to the preachers who are present at the fair. He describes them as "holy men" who are there to spread the word of God. However, Burns also highlights the hypocrisy of these preachers, who are more interested in their own personal gain than in the salvation of their followers. He uses sarcasm and irony to criticize the preachers, highlighting their greed and their lack of true faith.

The third part of the poem focuses on the people who attend the fair. Burns describes them as a diverse group of individuals, each with their own unique personality and beliefs. He uses this section of the poem to highlight the differences between the various sects of Christianity that were present in Scotland at the time. He also criticizes the people for their blind faith, pointing out that many of them are more interested in the social aspect of the fair than in the religious aspect.

The final part of the poem is a reflection on the fair itself. Burns uses this section to express his own beliefs about religion and faith. He argues that true faith is not about attending religious gatherings or following a set of rules, but about living a good life and treating others with kindness and respect. He also criticizes the idea of predestination, arguing that it is unfair and unjust.

Overall, "The Holy Fair" is a masterpiece of Scottish literature. Burns' use of satire and irony to criticize the religious establishment of his time is both clever and insightful. He captures the essence of his society, highlighting the differences between the various sects of Christianity and the hypocrisy of the preachers who lead them. He also expresses his own beliefs about faith and religion, arguing that true faith is about living a good life and treating others with kindness and respect.

In conclusion, "The Holy Fair" is a must-read for anyone interested in Scottish literature or the history of religion in Scotland. Burns' poetic genius and his ability to capture the essence of his society make this poem a timeless masterpiece that is still relevant today. Whether you are a fan of poetry or not, "The Holy Fair" is a work that should not be missed.

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