"DAFT DAYS, THE" Robert Fergusson (1771)
Robert Fergusson is credited as one of the most important Scottish poets for his revival of the traditional Scots language in late 18th-century poetry. Before writing "The Daft Days," he had attempted to adopt the English approach to verse, producing some unexceptional poetry. However, in "The Daft Days," published in Ruddiman's Weekly, Fergusson returned to his true talent. He writes of the power of holiday celebrations to lift human spirits depressed by life's hardships, expressing his great affection for "Auld Reikie," or Edinburgh, as the scene of celebration. He adopted the "standart Habbie" tail rhyme stanza. The term Habbie derived from Robert Sempill's poem "Life and Death of Habbie Simson" (ca. 1640), in which the poet both praises and pokes fun at his subject. Tail rhyme, or, as coined by the French, rime couée, indicates a stanza concluded by three lines. The first and third of the three concluding lines rhyme and are short lines, separated by the longer second line.
"The Daft Days" is the first in modern Scottish poetry to use a six-line stanza in a poem that is neither comic elegy nor epistle in verse form. Fergusson's contribution to the "Habbie" or "Habby" form remained important, extending its use into the next century. Robert Burns, who openly expressed his debt to Fergusson, would pick up the form soon after Fergusson's early death. "The Daft Days" contains the quickly executed transitions and lively description that would mark Fer-gusson's best work. Although he frames specific descrip tion within abstract ideas, he does not sacrifice unity to his method. Later critics would comment on the poem's skillful form and Fergusson's ability to echo the harmony inherent to the poem's theme in its overall construction, mainly through the use of sharp imagery.
Falling naturally into three sections, the poem opens with description of the gloomy winter day, establishing a tone of drear, as the speaker asks his listeners to "mirk," or mark, December's "dowie," or gloomy face:
Now mirk December's dowie face Glours our the rigs wi' sour grimace, While thro' his minimum of space,
The bleer-ey'd sun, Wi' blinkin light and stealing pace, His race doth run.
Even the sun cannot enliven the darkened day. Fergus-son adopts the figurative language (figure of speech) of personification for both the sun and the month. December has a face that "glours" or glowers, "our the rigs," over the ridges, managing to prevent the sun from reaching into many of the dark wintry spaces. The second stanza extends the dark imagery, in which "nae birdie sings," and no "shepherd's pipe" sounds. The breeze supplies "nae od'rous flavour," or scent
Frae Borean cave; And dwynin' Nature droops her wings, Wi' visage grave.
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