'Duncan Gray' by Robert Burns

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1Duncan Gray came here to woo,
2Ha, ha, the wooin o't!
3On blythe Yule night when we were fou,
4Ha, ha, the wooin o't!
5Maggie coost her head fu high,
6Look'd asklent and unco skeigh,
7Gart poor Duncan stand abeigh;
8Ha, ha, the wooin o't!

9Duncan fleech'd, and Duncan pray'd,
10Ha, ha, the wooin o't!
11Meg was deaf as Ailsa Craig,
12Ha, ha, the wooin o't!
13Duncan sigh'd baith out and in,
14Grat his een baith bleer't and blin',
15Spak o' lowpin owre a linn;
16Ha, ha, the wooin o't!

17Time and chance are but a tide,
18Ha, ha, the wooin o't!
19Slighted love is sair to bide,
20Ha, ha, the wooin o't!
21"Shall I, like a fool," quoth he,
22"For a haughty hizzie die?
23She may gae to--France for me!"--
24Ha, ha, the wooin o't!

25How it comes let doctors tell,
26Ha, ha, the wooin o't!
27Meg grew sick as he grew hale,
28Ha, ha, the wooin o't!
29Something in her bosom wrings,
30For relief a sigh she brings;
31And O! her een, they spak sic things
32Ha, ha, the wooin o't!

33Duncan was a lad o' grace,
34Ha, ha, the wooin o't!
35Maggie's was a piteous case,
36Ha, ha, the wooin o't!
37Duncan could na be her death,
38Swelling pity smoor'd his wrath;
39Now they're crouse and cantie baith;
40Ha, ha, the wooin o't!

Editor 1 Interpretation

Duncan Gray by Robert Burns: A Literary Analysis

Robert Burns, the Scottish poet and lyricist, is known for his ability to capture the essence of Scottish life and culture in his works. One of his most popular poems is "Duncan Gray", a ballad that tells the story of a young man's pursuit of the girl he loves. This literary analysis will explore the themes and literary devices used in the poem, as well as the historical and cultural context that influenced Burns' writing.

Historical and Cultural Context

" Duncan Gray" was written in the late 18th century, a time when Scotland was undergoing significant social and economic changes. The country was transitioning from a predominantly agricultural society to an industrial one, and this transformation brought with it new opportunities and challenges. Burns himself lived through this period of change and witnessed its effects firsthand; his works often reflect his observations and insights into Scottish life at the time.

The poem is set in a rural Scottish village, and the characters and events described in the text reflect the social norms and values of the time. The pursuit of love and marriage was a central concern for young men and women, and the process of courtship was governed by strict rules and conventions. The poem also references the consumption of alcohol, which was a common pastime in Scottish culture and often played a role in social gatherings and celebrations.


At its core, "Duncan Gray" is a poem about love and the pursuit of happiness. The protagonist, Duncan, is in love with a woman named Jean, but their relationship is complicated by a number of factors, including Jean's family and social status. Despite these obstacles, Duncan remains determined to win Jean's heart and is willing to take risks and make sacrifices to achieve his goal.

The poem also explores themes of class and social status, as Jean is depicted as a member of a higher social class than Duncan. This distinction is highlighted by the use of dialect in the text, with Jean's dialogue written in a more refined and educated style than Duncan's. This contrast serves to underscore the social barriers that exist between the two characters and the challenges they face in their relationship.

Literary Devices

Burns employs a number of literary devices in "Duncan Gray" to convey his message and create a vivid and engaging narrative. One of the most notable devices is the use of dialect, which is used to differentiate between the characters and create a sense of authenticity and realism. The use of dialect also serves to highlight the social and cultural context of the poem and the differences between the characters.

Another literary device used in the poem is imagery, which is used to evoke a sense of time and place and to create a sense of atmosphere. For example, the description of the "dancing in the barn" and the "fiddlers playing" creates a vivid image of a rural Scottish village and the customs and traditions of the time.

The poem also makes use of repetition, particularly in the chorus, which is repeated at the end of each stanza. This repetition serves to reinforce the central theme of the poem and create a sense of rhythm and musicality.


"Duncan Gray" is a poem that speaks to the universal human experience of love and the pursuit of happiness. The protagonist's determination and perseverance in the face of obstacles is a message that resonates with readers of all ages and backgrounds. The use of dialect and imagery serves to create a sense of time and place and to immerse the reader in the world of the poem.

At the same time, the poem is also a reflection of the historical and cultural context in which it was written. The social and economic changes that were taking place in Scotland at the time are reflected in the characters and events of the poem, and the use of dialect and imagery serves to highlight the cultural differences and social barriers that existed at the time.

Overall, "Duncan Gray" is a masterful work of poetry that combines literary skill with cultural insight and universal themes. It is a testament to Burns' talent and a lasting legacy of Scottish literature.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Duncan Gray, a classic poem written by Robert Burns, is a delightful piece of literature that has stood the test of time. This poem is a perfect example of Burns' ability to capture the essence of Scottish culture and tradition through his writing. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, structure, language, and imagery used in Duncan Gray.

The poem tells the story of a young man named Duncan Gray, who is in love with a woman named Maggie Lauder. The poem is written in the form of a ballad, which is a traditional Scottish form of poetry. The ballad form is characterized by its simple language, repetitive structure, and strong rhythm. Burns uses this form to great effect in Duncan Gray, creating a lively and engaging poem that is easy to read and understand.

The poem is divided into six stanzas, each with four lines. The rhyme scheme is AABB, which means that the first and second lines rhyme with each other, as do the third and fourth lines. This structure gives the poem a sense of symmetry and balance, which is fitting for a poem about love and courtship.

The language used in Duncan Gray is simple and direct, which is typical of Burns' writing. He uses a lot of Scottish dialect, which adds to the authenticity of the poem. For example, in the first stanza, he writes:

"Duncan Gray cam here to woo, Ha, ha, the wooing o't, On blythe Yule night when we were fou, Ha, ha, the wooing o't."

The use of words like "cam" instead of "came" and "fou" instead of "drunk" gives the poem a distinct Scottish flavor. Burns also uses a lot of repetition in the poem, which adds to its musicality. For example, the phrase "Ha, ha, the wooing o't" is repeated at the end of each stanza, creating a catchy refrain that is easy to remember.

The imagery used in Duncan Gray is vivid and colorful, which helps to bring the poem to life. Burns uses a lot of nature imagery, such as "the snaw-drift" and "the frosty moon," to create a sense of the season and the setting. He also uses a lot of imagery related to drinking and partying, which is typical of Scottish culture. For example, in the second stanza, he writes:

"The carlin claught her by the rump, And up she gat, and forth she jump, Whae'er she be, she's not a scrimp, And owre the green the rins she."

The use of words like "carlin" (an old woman) and "scrimp" (stingy) adds to the humor of the poem, while the image of the woman jumping up and running across the green is both funny and charming.

The theme of Duncan Gray is love and courtship, which is a common theme in Burns' poetry. The poem explores the ups and downs of a young man's attempts to win the heart of his beloved. The poem is full of humor and wit, as Duncan Gray tries various tactics to win Maggie's affection. For example, in the third stanza, he writes:

"He took a horn frae his side, And blew baith loud and shrill, And aye the words the trumpet cried, Was, 'Maggie, come to the mill.'"

The use of the horn as a symbol of courtship is both clever and playful, while the repetition of the phrase "Maggie, come to the mill" creates a sense of urgency and desire.

In conclusion, Duncan Gray is a classic poem that showcases Robert Burns' talent for capturing the essence of Scottish culture and tradition through his writing. The poem's simple structure, direct language, vivid imagery, and catchy refrain make it a joy to read and recite. The theme of love and courtship is timeless, and Burns' humor and wit make the poem both entertaining and insightful. Overall, Duncan Gray is a masterpiece of Scottish poetry that continues to delight readers and audiences today.

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