Janet Hamilton

1795-1873 / Scotland

Grannie's Crack Aboot The Famine In Auld Scotlan' In 1739-40

'Oh saw ye e'er sic witless bairns,
Sic wasterie o' blessin's gien?
Oh had they dree'd what we ha'e dree'd,
Oh had they seen what we ha'e seen!
'See hoo they break the gude ait-cake,
An' spit the moolins oot their mou';
They're lucky fu', an' lucky het,
An' lucky near the mill, I trow.'
Sae spak' my gutcher, roun' his chair
His ain gran' bairns were makin' fun,
Aft tedding frae their careless hauns
Their bits o' pieces on the grun'.
'Gude bless the bairns,' my grannie said,
Syne, turnin' frae her spinning wheel,
She drew her creepie near the fire-
'I ken, gudeman, ye lo'e them weel.
'Sair was the dool that we hae dree'd,
An' sair the sights that we hae seen,
But we hae been preserved through a'-
Praise to His blessed name be gi'en!
'That waefu' year I'll ne'er forget,
Ay, though it's unco lang sinsyne;
That year ye'll min' fu' weel yersel',
The seventeen hunner thretty-nine.
'The craps had fail'd for towmonds twa;
The meal was dear, an' next to nane
For luve or siller cou'd ye get,
Tho' owre braid Scotlan' ye had gane.
'Auld Scotlan' owre her thistle grat-
Noo that her mutchkin stoup was dry-
For meal pocks toom, an' aumries bare,
An' starvin' bairnie's waefu' cry.
'The frost lay a' that winter thro';
The yird was hard as ony stane;
An' famine to the cottars cam',
An' crined them doun to skin an' bane.
'My faither's girnel wasna toom;
We aye had something to the fore;
But oh! the starvin' wives an' bairns
That aften wannert roun' the door!
'The milky syn'ings o' the kirn,
The scartin's o' the parritch pat,
The bairns wad lick frae 'tween the stanes,
As they upon their groufs lay flat.
'An' turnip taps, an' green kail blades,
Were gather't up, an' carried hame-
Whan boil'd, the mithers were richt glad
Wi' sic like things to fill their wame.
'The spring was dreigh, and bitter cauld,
The trees were lang ere they were clad,
The wonner was hoo puir folk leeve't,
An' hoo their bairns were warm'd an' fed.
'Ae day I wanner't to the wud,
An' gather't sticks the fire to beet;
An' there an unco sicht I saw,
That made me baith to glow'r an' greet
'I'se warran there were hauf-a-score
O' hunger-stricken wives an' weans,
Thrang pu'in' frae the bare dyke side
Young nettles, spite o' stingin' pains.
'An' branches o' the beech wi' leaves
But hauflins spread, they stripped bare,
I saw them eat the leaves wi' greed,
An' gi'e them to their weanies there.
'An' aft, whan naither bite nor sowp
The parents could their bairnies gie,
They wad contrive some slee bit ploy
To stap their cravin's for a wee.
'My faither's neebor, Robin Steel-
His wife an' him ye'll min', gudeman?-
Ae nicht their bairns were greetin' sair,
Till Robin thocht him o' a plan.
'A wecht he fill'd wi' dry peat ase
Amang the whilk some pease he mix'd-
In that the bairns wad graip and wale,
Till sleep their weary een had fix'd.
'The cottar faither, weak wi' want,
Wad stacher to the farmer's ha',
A scone or twa the wife wad gie,
If she had ocht to spare ava.
'Then tears ran doun his pykit cheeks,
And he wad thank her wi' his een,
But ne'er a bit o't cross'd his craig
Till it was dealt at hame, I ween.
'Oh mony a bairn fell frae the breast,
An' lay upon the mither's knee
Like some wee wallow't lily flouir,
Till death would kin'ly close its e'e.
'An' mony a puir auld man and wife
That winter dee't wi' want an cauld;
They couldna beg, and sae their need
To neebors puir was never tauld.
'Oor Scottish puir had aye some pride-
An' honest, decent pride, I ween;
Sair want an' sufferin' they thol't
Ere they wad let their need be seen.
'That randy quean, Job's graceless wife,
Wha bade him curse his God and dee-
Auld Scotlan' wad hae cuff'd her lugs
Had she been here advice to gie.
'Yet there was mony a stricken heart,
Whase faith an' hope was like to fail;
But aye some word in season cam'
To mak' the wounded speerit hale.
'An' ye micht hear, baith e'en an' morn,
In mony a hame, the voice o' prayer,
Though ne'er a peat to beet the fire,
Or bread to fill the mou' was there.
'Ae day, I slipp'd my parritch cog
A'neath my jupe, an' ran wi' speed
To Robin Steel's, for sair I fear'd
That they had naither meal nor bread.
'The mither took it in her haun'
And liftit up to Heaven her e'e,
An' thankit God for what was gi'en,
Ere she wad let the bairnies pree.
'That mither-ay, and mony mair
That thro' the fiery trials pass'd-
Like silver seven times purified,
Cam' oot the furnace pure at last.
'An' noo, gudeman, I'll haud my tongue,
I needna noo sae muckle mair;
But pray that Scotlan' ne'er again
May see sic times-sae sad an' sair.'
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