The Gentle Shepherd

Allan Ramsay

The poet Allan Ramsay died in Edinburgh on 7 January, 1758.

GK Ramsay 1

He is remembered in Greyfriars Kirkyard by this stone, erected a century or so after his death, whose opening text reads:

In this Cemetery
Was Interred the Mortal Part
of an Immortal Poet.
ALLAN RAMSAY
Author of the GENTLE SHEPHERD,
And other admirable Poems in the Scottish Dialect.
He was born in 1686, and Died in 1758.

The following four lines confused me when I first read them, as I knew them from a gravestone elsewhere in Edinburgh.

No sculptur’d Marble here, nor pompous lay,
No storied Urn nor animated Bust;
This simple stone directs pale Scotia’s way
To pour her sorrows o’er the Poet’s dust.

Written in 1787 by Robert Burns for Robert Fergusson, these lines are carved on the latter’s headstone in the Canongate Kirkyard. They have been borrowed, or repurposed, to remember Ramsay, though in the process Burns and Fergusson have been forgotten. Cut-and-paste, 19th century style.

Burns Fergusson epitaph

Ramsay’s The Gentle Shepherd is a pastoral comedy in Scots from 1725. A few steps away from Robert Fergusson’s grave is that of Adam Smith, who said of Ramsay’s work, ‘it is the duty of a poet to write like a gentleman. I dislike that homely style which some think fit to call the language of nature and simplicity and so forth.’

Here’s a brief extract, in which a young man praises his love’s singing.

PATIE.
Jenny sings saft the ‘Broom o Cowdenknowes’,
An Rosie lilts the ‘Milkin o the Yowes’.
There’s nane like Nancy ‘Jenny Nettles’ sings;
At turns in Maggy Lauder’, Marion dings;
But when my Peggy sings, wi sweeter skill,
The ‘Boatman’ or the ‘Lass o Patie’s Mill’,-
It is a thoosand times mair sweet to me;
Tho they sing weel, they canna sing like thee.

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