To the Merchantis of Edinburgh

1. Quhy will ye…
tyine > lose

2. May nane pass…
gaittis > streets
carlingis > old women
For fowsum… > For foul and slanderous abuse
estaittis > ranks

3. Your stinkand …
scull > school
dirk > dark
parroche > parrish
forstair > outside stair
mirk > dark, murky
polesie > improvement

4. At your hie Croce…
hie Croce > tall Mercat (Market?) Cross, a principal assembly point.
crudis > curds
Trone > “the tron, the public weighing machine, usually set up in or near the market place, and also used as a pillory.” (tron > trone > throne? Ironical reference to the pillory?)
cokill and wilk > cockles and whelks
pansches > tripes
that ilk > the same thing

5. Your commone menstrallis…
tone > tune
Now the Day Dawis > Now the Day Dawns, a popular tune; also mentioned in Robert Sempill’s “The Life and Death of the Piper of Kilbarchan.”
cunningar > more skillful
man > must
Sanct Cloun > St. Claunus, a high-living sixth-century Irish abbot
clame > claim, assert a right to. The unskillful musicians (pipers?) can only play a couple of tunes. The more skillful ones are forced to stay with popular tunes too.
mowaris > mockers
moyne > moon. Kinsley offers “those who deride, mock at, the moon. Cf. the proverbs, ‘to bark against the moon,’ ‘the moon does not heed the barking dog,’” but doesn’t try to make sense of it in this context. Does “hald” here have the sense of “keep” or “employ”?

6. Tailyouris, soutteris…
soutteris > cobblers
fyll > defile, pollute
styll > alley
hamperit in ane hony came > cramped together like bees in a honey comb.

7. Your burgh…
Your town is a nest of beggars—vagabonds (scoundrels) who never cease shouting for alms.
rame > yell
drest > prepared

8. Your proffeit…
cruikit > twisted (spinal curvature, hunchbacked?)
substance > wealth

9. Sen for the Court…
sen > since
repair > resort
boun > prepared
eschew > avoid

10. Thairfoir strangeris…
liegis > loyal subjects
treit > treat well
ouer meikle > over much
meit > food
gar > make
That na… > So that there won’t be any extortion, proscribe all fraud and shamefulness
beit > give relief to

11. Singular proffeit…
singular > individual
deit > died

The text comes from The Poems of William Dunbar, ed. James Kiley, (1979), with a tweak or two from William Dunbar, Selected Poems, ed. Harriet Harvey Wood (2003).

The narrow streets of the town were apparently foul with uncollected offal discarded from stalls, plus excrement. The high tenements shut out the light.