The third stanza offers more of the same negative tone, emphasizing the fact that "Mankind but scanty pleasure glean" from the barren landscape. Concluding the first section of the poem, which sets the scene, Fergusson takes his reader in the fourth stanza into Edinburgh in a delightful contrast to the hostile external environment. The speaker salutes "Auld Reikie!" as "the canty hole," which offers a snug and warm escape in its pubs to humans weary of winter.
As the fifth stanza moves into the poem's second section, the tone appears considerably lightened. Holiday has arrived, and all enjoy it:
When merry Yule-day comes I trow, You'll scantlins find a hungry mou; Sma' are our cares, our stamacks fou
O' gusty gear, And kickshaws, strangers to our view. Sin' fairn-year.
No one hungers during Yule-day, as cares grow small when one enjoys a full stomach, and "kickshaws," or worries, are things of the "fairn," or past, year. The sixth stanza calls upon "Ye browster," or brewer, "wives!" to "fling your sorrows far away,'" while the seventh stanza explains "we'll never quarrel," and "Discord" cannot "spoil our glee." The eighth stanza builds on this joy as fiddlers play, banishing "vile Italian tricks." Those fiddles in the ninth stanza beckon revelers to respond to Scottish music:
For nought can cheer the heart sae weel As a canty Highland reel; It vivifies the heel
To skip and dance: Lifeless is he wha canna feel Its influence.
one would have to be dead not be affected by the uplifting music; nothing else can "sae weel," or so well, cheer a sad heart. Fergusson adds balance to his stanza by contrasting a heel that music "vivifies," or brings to life, with the "lifeless" person who cannot feel the music's inspiration.
In those five middle verses, the reader enjoys vignettes of feasters, musicians, and dancers, with the mention of specific instruments. Fergusson increases the poem's momentum as the movement that he describes picks up speed, partially by his choice of consonants. Hard sounds such as b and k, achieved in part through the hard c usage, result in sharp verbal explosions within frequent alliteration that increases the pace.
The last two stanzas form the poem's third section and conclusion. The activity tapers off in stanza 10, emphasized by Fergusson's switch to Standard English:
Let mirth abound; let social cheer
Invest the dawning of the year;
Let blithesome innocence appear To crown our joy;
Nor envy, wi' sarcastic sneer, Our bliss destroy.
The speaker returns to his opening strategy, speaking in generalizations, all of the distinctive specific detail that so enlivened the middle section of the poem replaced by an empty philosophy. The vacuous words reflect the disappointment the New Year is destined to cause. Critics find this stanza the weakest, particularly the tail rhyme lines, which remain lackluster. They also comment on the half-hearted approach to incorporate the neoclassical abstractions that so contrast with the previous sharply defined imagery.
However, the final stanza recovers strength in its biting indictment of Edinburgh's so-called law enforcers, the City Guard. Ironically, Fergusson refers to them as "that black banditti" and calls on the "great god of aqua vitae" for protection of the poor against those who should support the common man's best interests but who do not. The Guard remained an ever-present military force that had degenerated into a group with little regard for justice. Thus, Fergusson characterizes them in his stanza as a force that abused the very people they should have protected.
Fergusson would follow "The Daft Days" in Ruddi-man's periodical with "Elegy on the Death of Scots Music," another example of traditional language and form. While his output remained small because he died at age 24, it proved vital to development of the poetry that Robert Burns would make famous. It also provided the humanist historical, political, and literary continuity promoting Scottish traditions, important to poets such as Fergusson for the stability and self-knowledge those traditions provided. Emphasis of tradition reminded readers of their past, as well as the future to which they should aspire. The Whig philosophy promoted materialism as the path to happiness and contentment, contrasting greatly with the Scots humanist traditional philosophy. It encouraged man to look within, assess his limitations, then develop a new sense of self-awareness, rejecting the idea of defining one's self on the basis of one's possessions.
Was this article helpful?