Inspired by this morning’s brunch of toad in the hole and baby bridies at St. Louis’ great Scotch bar, I’ve chosen Robert Burns’ “Nature’s Law” (1786) as this Sunday’s poem. The poem is about reproduction, and instead of God’s command to multiply and replenish the Earth, the drive to reproduce is here presented as Nature’s Law. Assigning the attributes of God to Nature (with a capital N, naturally) became a common tactic of the Romantics, who avoided traditional symbols of piety, as well as the hyper-rational Deism of Age of Enlightenment.
Recognizing “nature’s law” of reproduction is the first step towards Malthusian logic, the second step being the recognition of the consequences of unbridled reproduction. Malthus published his groundbreaking An essay on the principle of population twelve years after this poem, and of course Malthus’ writing was a direct influence on Darwin and his discovery of natural selection.
“Great Nature spoke: observant man obey’d” – Pope
Let other heroes boast their scars,
The marks of sturt and strife:
And other poets sing of wars,
The plagues of human life:
Shame fa’ the fun, wi’ sword and gun
To slap mankind like lumber!
I sing his name, and nobler fame,
Wha multiplies our number.
Great Nature spoke, with air benign,
“Go on, ye human race;
This lower world I you resign;
Be fruitful and increase.
The liquid fire of strong desire
I’ve pour’d it in each bosom;
Here, on this had, does Mankind stand,
And there is Beauty’s blossom.”
The Hero of these artless strains,
A lowly bard was he,
Who sung his rhymes in Coila’s plains,
With meikle mirth an’glee;
Kind Nature’s care had given his share
Large, of the flaming current;
And, all devout, he never sought
To stem the sacred torrent.
He felt the powerful, high behest
Thrill, vital, thro’ and thro’;
And sought a correspondent breast,
To give obedience due:
Propitious Powers screen’d the young flow’rs,
From mildews of abortion;
And low! the bard–a great reward–
Has got a double portion!
Auld cantie Coil may count the day,
As annual it returns,
The third of Libra’s equal sway,
That gave another Burns,
With future rhymes, an’ other times,
To emulate his sire:
To sing auld Coil in nobler style
With more poetic fire.
Ye Powers of peace, and peaceful song,
Look down with gracious eyes;
And bless auld Coila, large and long,
With multiplying joys;
Lang may she stand to prop the land,
The flow’r of ancient nations;
And Burnses spring, her fame to sing,
To endless generations!