Thou's welcome, wean; mishanter fa' me,
The poem opens with a declaration that the author is proud of this child, and his only misfortune ("mishanter") would be if he was intimidated ("daunton") or embarrassed by his relationship with her or her mother
Her arrival has caused some scandal for him and his family. He is the subject of local gossip ("kintry clatter"). However, he says that this attention only makes him better known ("kent"). Then he dismisses the gossip as powerless and not worth caring about ("To gie ane fash"/to give one care).
Burns says he had to battle the church leaders ("kirk") and its congregation ("queir"/choir) over this child.
While she was not planned, he certainly had to take a stand and fight for her.
As he kisses and cuddles ("daut") the child he sees she has the looks of her mother Betty.
He intends to be a good and affectionate father.
He will love her as much as if she had the full approval of the clergy.
Elizabeth is the product of many happy encounters. The joy of that relationship is now somewhat tarnished since she was not legitimate. However, he then dismisses the issue and commits that his new daughter will have her share of his last coin ("plack").
He would be the worse if his daughter were not as fashionably and comfortably dressed as any child of a traditional marriage.
He would also see her well educated.
He makes a wish that Elizabeth inherits the best qualities of her mother with his own spirit, but not his shortcomings.
If this happened it would please him more than if she inherited a fully stocked farm ("stockit mailens").
If the child becomes what he wishes and takes his advice, he will never regret the troubles that arrived with her.
He ends with his declaration to be a proud and loving father to the child.
This poem was written on the arrival of Robert Burns' first child, Elizabeth in 1785. It is sometimes called "The Poet's Welcome to his Bastart Wean" or "Ode to the Bastart Wean" and is subtitled "The First Instance That Entitled Him To The Venerable Appellation Of Father"
The birth was the result of an affair Burns had been having with Elizabeth Paton, a maid in the household. At the time of this birth Burns was already pursuing Jean Armour, who would later become his wife.
The arrival of Elizabeth brought considerable scandal to the Burns family. Despite the disapproval of the church and community, Burns avowed his paternity and welcomed the child.
In this poem he declared his joy at becoming a father and dismissed any notion of regret. The prevailing attitude of the time was a rigid Presbytarianism, which would be severely critical of pregnancy outside marriage. His declaration of love for the child was overt defiance of the religious convention of the day.
While Burns could be patriotic, sarcastic and bawdy, this set of verses is much more personal than his other work. Most people read within it a strong tone of sincerity and fatherly devotion.
At least one critic has claimed that this poem showed Burns to be insensitive to the shame of his poor, recently widowed mother.
However, this piece was never published during his lifetime. This implies that Burns meant it only as a personal statement, and it did not represent the arrogance that the critic imputed to it.
Contributed by Stewart Cameron