Jan. 25, 2002

Afton Water

by Robert Burns


Poem: "Afton Water," by Robert Burns.

Afton Water

Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes,
Flow gently, I'll sing thee a song in thy praise;
My Mary's asleep by thy murmuring stream,
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.

Thou stock-dove whose echo resounds through the glen,
Ye wild whistling blackbirds in yon thorny den,
Thou green-crested lapwing, thy screaming forbear,
I charge you disturb not my slumbering fair.

How lofty, sweet Afton, thy neighboring hills,
Far marked with the courses of clear winding rills;
There daily I wander as noon rises high,
My flocks and my Mary's sweet cot in my eye.

How pleasant thy banks and green valleys below,
Where wild in the woodlands the primroses blow;
There oft as mild evening weeps over the lea,
The sweet-scented birk shades my Mary and me.

Thy crystal stream, Afton, how lovely it glides,
And winds by the cot where my Mary resides;
How wanton thy waters her snowy feet lave,
As gathering sweet flowerets she stems thy clear wave.

Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes,
Flow gently, sweet river, the theme of my lays;
My Mary's asleep by thy murmuring stream,
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.

It's the birthday of British novelist and essayist Virginia Woolf, born Adeline Virginia Stephen, in London (1882). Her father was the formidable Victorian intellectual Sir Leslie Stephen. As the editor of Cornhill Magazine, he nurtured the careers of Thomas Hardy, Robert Lewis Stevenson, and Henry James. After her father died in 1904, she settled in Gordon Square in London, where a circle of artists and writers gathered around her which became known as the Bloomsbury group. She married Leonard Woolf in 1912, and five years later they founded a small press, the Hogarth Press. Her novels include The Voyage Out (1915), Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927) and Orlando (1928). The novels focus less on traditional plot and more on the ways in which her characters experience time and the events of their daily lives. She was also a brilliant essayist, best known for her long essay, A Room of One's Own (1929), about the difficulties faced by women who want to be writers. She suffered from mental illness for most of her life, and was carefully tended by her husband Leonard. However, in March 1941, she placed a large stone in the pocket of her coat and drowned herself in the river near her home in Rodmell, Sussex. Virginia Woolf, who once wrote to a friend: "I read the book of Job last night; I don't think God comes out of it well."

It's the birthday of British novelist W. (William) Somerset Maugham, born in Paris, France (1874). His best-known novels are Of Human Bondage (1915), The Moon and Sixpence (1919), Cakes and Ale (1930), and The Razor's Edge (1944).

It's the birthday of Scotland's National Poet, Robert Burns, born in Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland (1759). He was born in a small thatched cottage in the town of Alloway, and at the age of seven moved with his family to a farm a few miles away. He grew up working with his father in the fields and hearing his mother sing and tell stories. After his father died in 1784, he and his brother Gilbert became partners in the family farm. But his main occupations were writing, drinking, and womanizing. In 1786, in the midst of financial troubles which made him think of emigrating to Jamaica, his first volume of poetry was published. Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect was a huge and immediate success with all classes of Scottish society. In 1788, he settled down to marry Jean Armour, and accepted a post as a tax collector. He was only thirty-seven when he died, in 1796, of heart disease. He's known for his great Scottish songs, like the perennial favorite "Auld Lang Syne," for his poems of country life, and for his love poems. When he wrote his first poem, in 1783, he commented in his journal: "There certainly is some connection between Love and Music and Poetry. I never had the least thought or inclination of turning Poet till I once got heartily in love, and then rhyme and song were, in a manner, the spontaneous language of my heart."

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