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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

Mercy O Gode

1st July 2010

Twa bodachs, I mind, had a threep ae day,
Aboot man’s chief end –
Aboot man’s chief end.
Whan the t’ane lookit sweet his wards war sour,
Whan the tither leuch out his words gied a clour,
But whilk got the better I wasna sure –
I wasna sure,
And needna say.

But I mind them well for a queer-like pair –
A gangrel kind,
A gangrel kind:
The heid o’ the ane was beld as an egg,
The ither, puir man, had a timmer leg,
An’ baith for the bite could dae nocht but beg
Nocht but beg –
Or live on air!

On a table-stane in the auld Kirkyaird,
They ca’ ‘The Houff’,
They ca’ ‘The Houff’,
They sat in their rags like wearyfu’ craws,
An fankl’t themsel’s about a ‘FIRST CAUSE’,
An’ the job the Lord had made o’ His laws,
Made o’ His laws,
In human regaird.

Twa broken auld men wi’ little but jaw –
Faur better awa
Aye – better awa;
Yammerin’ owr things that nane can tell,
The yin for a Heaven, the ither for Hell;
Wi’ nae mair in tune than a crackit bell –
A crackit bell
Atween the twa.

Dour badly he barkit in praise o’ the Lord –
 ‘The pooer o’ Gode
An the wull o’ Gode’;
But Stumpie believ’t nor in Gode nor man –
Thocht life but a fecht without ony plan,
An’ the best nae mair nor a flash i’ the pan –
A flash i’ the pan
In darkness smored.

Twa dune men – naither bite nor bed! –
A sair like thing –
An unco thing.
To the Houff they cam to lay their heid
An’ seek a nicht’s rest wi’ the sleepin’ deid,
Whar the stanes wudna grudge nor ony tak’ heed
Nor ony tak’ heed:
But it’s ill to read.

They may hae been bitter, an’ dour, an’ warsh,
But wha could blame –
Aye - wha could blame?
I kent bi their look they war no’ that bad
But jist ill dune bi an’ driven half mad:
Whar there’s nae touch o’ kindness this life’s owr sad
This life’s owr sad
An’ faur owr harsh.

But as nicht drave on I had needs tak’ the road,
Fell glad o’ ma dog –
The love o’ a dog:
An’ tho’ nane wad hae me that day at the fair,
I raither’t the hill for a houff than in there,
‘Neth a table-stane, on a deid man’s lair –
A deid man’s lair –
Mercy o’ Gode.

Pittendrigh MacGillivray  (1856-1938)

Selected by the Scotish Poetry Library