'The death and dying words of poor Maelie'

Every year on the 25th of January Prof. David MacDonald and the Wildlife Conservation and Research Unit (WildCRU) celebrate the birthday of Scotland’s beloved poet with a winter’s evening of good cheer and carefully orchestrated artistic talent, not the least of which is David’s own traditional recital of a Burns poem.

For Robert Burns Night 2009, David chose the poem below, and asked me to draw a few sheep cartoons to go with it…

'The death and dying words of poor Maelie', Robert Burns (1759 - 1796)

As Maelie, and her lamb together, was one day nibbling on the tether,

Upon her cloot she caste a hitch, an’ owre she warsl’d in the ditch!


There, groaning, dying, she did lie,
When Hughoc he came doytan by.

He saw her days were near-hand ended, but, wi’ heavy heart, he could na’ mend it!

He gaped wide, but naething spak, at length poor Mailie silence brak.

O thou, whose lamentable face, appears to mourn my woefu’ case!
My dying words attentive hear, an’ bear them to my Master dear.


Tell him, he was a Master kin’, an’ ay was guid to me an’ mine;

An’ now my dying charge I gie him, my helpless lambs, I trust them wi’ him.

O, bid him save their harmless lives, frae dogs an’ tods, an’ butchers’ knives!

But gie them guid cow-milk their fill, til they be fit to fend themsel;

An’ tend them duely, e’en and morn, wi’ tufts o’ hay an’ ripps o’ corn.


My poor tup-lamb, my son an’ heir,
O, bid him breed him up wi’ care!

An’ if he live to be a beast,
To put some sense within his breast!


An’ warn him, what I winna name,
To stay content wi’ yowes at hame;

An’ no to run and wear his cloots, like ither menseless, graceless brutes.

An’ next my yowie, silly thing,
God keep thee frae a tether string!

silly ewe

O, may thou ne’er foregather up,
Wi’ onie blastet, moorland tup;

But ay keep mind to mop and mell,
Wi’ sheep o’ credit like thyself!

And now, my bairns, wi’ my last breath,
I lea’e my blessin wi’ you baith:
An’ when ye think upo’ your mither,
Mind to be kind to ane anither.

Now honest Hughoc, dinna fail,
To tell my Master a’ my tale;

An’ bid him burn this cursed tether,
An’ for thy pains thou’se get my bladder!'