Popular Posts

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Tonight is Burns Night

Another year-old, recycled and somewhat expanded post, following in the footsteps (or keypresses) of my Christmas one. Maybe I ought to design a small logo to flag up any that might come in the future. So, tonight is Burns Night (although, something I discovered only the other day: any night of the year can be Burns Night. But the official night, the preferred night is tonight, the anniversary of his birth.) Indeed, this year is a very special one, his 250th anniversary. What Burns Night conjures up in the minds of most people, I guess, is a certain conviviality, not to say rowdiness, associated with the eating of haggis and the singing of "Auld Lang Syne". The words known by everyone are:

For Auld Lang Syne!

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?

Also well-known is:
My Love is like a Red, Red Rose",
and less so, perhaps:
A Man's a Man for a' that, To a Mouse and Address to a Haggis.

At which point I think I will slip in this (somewhat edited)snippet from The Guardian last December:

His love might have been like a red red rose, but it turns out that Robert Burns may also have been suffering from a disease which made riding on a horse a painful experience.
Two previously unknown poems found with some letters cast a different light on the man known for his romantic verse including "Ae fond kiss and then we sever".

Their owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, found them in his mother's home a decade ago, but decided to wait until the 250th anniversary of Burns's birth (this Sunday) before putting them up for sale.

Burns writes in the letters about his relationships with two women, and describes a miserable journey to Glasgow in a sonnet:

I lately made a journey to Glasgow
O had I stayed and said my prayers at hame
Curst be that night as annual it returns
That led astray the luckless poet B
May thickening fogs by sickly east winds driven
Foul cover Earth and blot the face of Heaven.

The second poem is a paraphrase of one of the psalms. "It's not, what you'd call a fantastic piece of poetry," said the owner of the papers.

One of Burns's greatest achievements, which was an unpaid labour of love, was his songs for the Scots Musical Museum. He contributed over 300 songs, many of his own composition, and others based on older verses.

At about the same time he wrote his most famous long poem, 'Tam O'Shanter', completing it in a single day. 'Tam O'Shanter' is the story of a man who disturbs a coven of witches in the kirk at Alloway and has to flee for his life on Meg, his old grey mare. The fastest witch, Cutty Sark (cutty sark means short petticoat) nearly caught him by the River Doon, but the running water makes her powerless and though she managed to grasp Meg's tail, Tam escaped over the bridge.

Burns died at the age of thity seven from a bout of rheumatic fever caught as a result of falling asleep at the roadside (somewhat the worse for drink) in pouring rain. The last of Burns' children was actually born during his funeral service.

What Burns Night (and to a lesser extent Burns) conjures up in my mind are a few verses from Hugh MacDiarmid's "A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle". This is a deep and complex poem, the conceit of which is that a drunk man finds himself lying helplessly on a moonlit hillside, staring at a thistle and meditating on its jaggedness and its beauty. Because he is drunk, the thistle can become a metaphor for anything he likes: the divided state of Scotland, for example. The meditations become varied and far-ranging. If you do not know the poem, but enjoy poems that combine humour with passion and great versification, then I think A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle would be for you.

This from a section in which he meditates on Burns and Burns Night.on Burns Night (though not Burns):

"You canna gang to a Burns supper even
Wi-oot some wizened scrunt o' a knock-knee
Chinee turns roon to say, 'Him Haggis - velly goot!'
And ten to wan the piper is a Cockney.

"No wan in fifty kens a wurd Burns wrote
But misapplied is a'body's property,
And gin there was his like alive the day
They'd be the last a kennin' haund to gie -

"Croose London Scotties wi their braw shirt fronts
And a' their fancy freens rejoicin
That similah gatherings in Timbuctoo,
Bagdad - and Hell, nae doot - are voicin

"Burns' sentiments o' universal love,
In pidgin English or in wild-fowl Scots,
And toastin ane wha's nocht to them but an
Excuse for faitherin Genius wi their thochts.

"A' they've to say was aften said afore,
A lad was born in Kyle to blaw aboot.
What unco fate maks him the dumpin-grun
For aa the sloppy rubbish they jaw oot?

"Mair nonsense has been uttered in his name
Than in ony's barrin liberty and Christ.
If this keeps spreedin as the drink declines,
Syne turns to tea, wae's me for the Zietgeist!"

And here he is on the common folk:

"And a' the names in History mean nocht
To maist folk but 'ideas o' their ain,'
The vera opposite o' onything
The Deid 'ud awn gin they cam' back again.

"A greater Christ, a greater Burns, may come.
The maist they'll dae is to gi'e bigger pegs
To folly and conceit to hank their rubbish on.
They'll cheenge folks' talk but no their natures, fegs!"

Another Burns Link
And, very popular when I published them before, MP3 files of A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistlehere


Rachel Cotterill said...

I would love you to expand on the idea that Burns Night can be any night. What does that mean in practise? Thank you.

Dave King said...

Read it in The Guardian. Don't know much more than that, really. It pointed outthat Burns Nights can be (and are) organised on any night of the year, and not just on his anniversay, though I have to say I have never heard of one on another night. maybe in far flung parts of the world...
Thanks for your interest.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Could it just be that the scots can hold a party anytime, anywhere?
We always go to a "Burns Night for the English" (it was last night), where the hardy eat haggis and neeps and the rest of us eat pork casserole! It is surprising how Burns creeps into our language - I rarely hear a mouse spoken of (we have a lot round here on the farms) without somebody calling it a timorous beastie. Thinking of his death - you never hear of anyone suffering from rheumatic fever nowadays do you? Is it suddenly curable with antibiotics? When I was young people were always going down with it (and scarlet fever and diphtheria) what has happened to them?

Natalie said...

Good job, Dave. Can't even conceive the notion of a child being born during the parent's funeral service! Although, If I keep having children, I may well be giving birth as they bury me!

Thanks for the vote of confidence. :D

Derrick said...

Hi Dave,

Snap! Not really, your piece provides a great deal more and I enjoyed the MacDiarmid. Translating the Scots language is always a treat!

To pick up on Weaver's point, you only have to google 'Caledonian Society' to see how easy it is to get a party going! And I hope Weaver counted herself amongst the "hardy" and had the neeps and haggis last night!

Ken Armstrong said...

I wouldn't apologise for recycling a post. I think it's a great idea from time to time.

Look at me, I wasn't reading you a year ago (what a dreadful time that was, in retrospect :)) so now I get the oppotunity to see this post which I would have otherwise missed.

It's all-good, I say!

High Desert Diva said...

Perfect time to recycle a post.

Carl said...

Great Post! Burns is a fascinating topic. My favorite of his poems is. "Adieu, A Heart-Warm, Fond Adieu"


Anairam said...

Well, I didn't know it was Burns night tonight, but I will be celebrating with some very unScottish tango. And I won't be having any haggis, either ...

Jenn said...

I agree with Ken & Diva, a recycled post now and then is a great way to remind current readers of your interests as well as encourage new ones like myself to keep coming back for even more great reads!

Haggis frightens me, Burns intrigues me.

acornmoon said...

Thank you for nominating me for your lemonade award, I shall drink to that!

Conda V. Douglas said...

Traditionally, here in Idaho, Burn's night is his birthday--and is a big deal. Boise was settled primarily by people of first generation Americans whose parents came from Scotland and had settled and oversettled the Midwest. So, there's the piping in of the haggis and we all have a taste. Usually just a taste...

Anonymous said...

nice piece of writings sir loved ur blog


Bee said...

"Because he is frunk, the thistle can become a metaphor for anything he likes"

Dave, I assume that "frunk" is a typo, but if so, it is an inspired one! Frunk: a drunken funk. I think you've just coined a word. I've never ruminated on a thistle, but it seems a good example (or metaphor) for something that is beautiful and yet potentially hurtful at the same time. In most everything, there is a sting!

We had a discussion of haggis over breakfast . . . but that's about the extent of Burns Night around here.

Sorlil said...

Yeuch - my opinion on haggis, not very nationalistic of me is it?! Though my two year-old son had his first taste of haggis tonight and loved it!

Karen said...

Dave -- this may be recycled, but it's new to me! I have always loved Burns and as someone who lives in an area primarily settled by Scots, the language sounds like the dialect I heard from the older Appalachian folks. Thanks for making me think of a poet I've not thought of in a while -- except when I'm checking heads at school! ;)

Thanks for visiting Keeping Secrets, too. I'm new at this, and I appreciate the feedback.

Dave King said...

Weaver of Grass
I think the Scots' fondness for partying seems a reasonable explanation. I do know of a couple of people who have had bouts of rheumatic fever and have recurrent symptoms. The doctor told one that you never really get over it, but I agree: it doesn't seem anything like the scourge it once was.

Now that would give you thhe 15 minutes of fame that Andy Warhol thought everyone should have - though unfortunately, posthumously.

Agreed. I always enjoy reading poetry in the Scots. I shall treat myself at your blog ASAP. I'm sure she was among the hardy. Absolutely!

No one was reading me a year ago (almost no one - "popular" then meant 3), that's why I recycled it.

High Desert Diva
That's okay then, thanks!

Good choice. I find that each time I go back to him I find a new favourite.

Each man to his own, I say.

Yup, give me Burns over Haggis any day - apart from which, they do know how to party, those Scots.

Please do. It was a pleasure to nominate your blog.

I am intrigued by the "usually". Is there a story there?

Thanks for that.

Correct. I hadn't noticed it, I'm afraid. Should read "Because he is drunk". Thinking about it though, I do rather like "frunk".

There's no accounting for childrens' tastes, is there?

Yes, feedback is always good. Thanks for yours.

Lisa said...

Having not read the original, i am very happy you thought to re-post- thank you- i will be reading from here on in xx
Lisa x

Cloudia said...

Glad I had a chance to read this "old" post. Thank you & Aloha-

Meri Arnett-Kremian said...

Morning Dave (at least for me),
Thanks for stopping by my blog. It's an entertaining thing to do, but sometimes I fear that I use it to dodge my "real" writing. I do, however, love the community-building facet of blogging.

I checked your profile --- I love Billy Elliott and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie as well. Hadn't thought about Miss Jean Brodie in a long time.

Also checked your blog (and linked it on mine so people who haven't found you yet can do so). I'll go back and read more when I get the kittens to the vet (they're being deprived of reproductive rights today). I especially want to think about the one on appreciating paintings. I'm a trustee at an art museum, paint myself, and know a fair amount about art but my response to paintings is visceral too. If I don't like it, it doesn't help to know something about it.

My email to you bounced back for some reason, so I'm posting the message instead. Sorry no content about Burns.....


Conda V. Douglas said...

Well, Dave, the story is: One gal almost always makes all the haggis from an old family recipe(I doubt she reads my blog or will follow this thread, at least I hope not). This haggis tastes like old sheep guts with maybe too much salt thrown in. Ugh.

One year, however, she was out of town so another gal made the haggis, not from a family recipe, but from a cookbook. Yummy, yummy. We ate it all.

And we keep tasting each year to see if it's that good. Not so far, but those of Scots descent seem to always be optimistic!

Madam Z said...

I can't even imagine how you came across my own lowly blog, but I'm glad you did, because your comment led me to *your* highly blog!

While I am more familiar with George Burns than I am with Robert Burns, I enjoyed reading your twice-told tale celebrating the anniversary of his birth.

Regarding "haggis," I have often wondered if the name is derived, at least in part, from the word "maggots," since it tastes like something that maggots might enjoy. In fact,it tastes like something that may have maggots as one of its primary ingredients.

Now I must go, since I have many of your posts to read, before I sleep.

Adrian LaRoque said...

Great post! Burns is indeed an excellent topic.

Dave King said...

Welcome Lisa, and much thanks for stopping by to comment.

No, thank you.

Welcome Meri.
Morning for me now, also.
I greatly enjoyed my visit to your blog.
I think we all have this Blog V "Real" writing problem.
Thanks for reminding me about my profile. It's very incomplete and about time I put in a bit more work on it.
Nothing wrong with visceral!
Thanks for a very thorough response. Much appreciated.

Great! Thanks for that: a question of joy V McCoy, you could say.
May your taste buds never quail!

Madam Z
You do yourself an injustice. I much enjoyed my visit.
Time to come clean, I guess: I have never tasted haggis and so cannot comment.
Cpwardly, I know, since I do love all other things Scots and Scottish - things cultural, that is, including Scotch!

Welcome and thanks

Sweet Talking Guy.. said...

Love the MacDiarmid stuff!

Dick said...

There was a magnificent rendition on BBC 4's 'Poetry Please' of 'Auld Lang Syne', sung to the 'original' tune (no, I didn't know either!) by a Scottish choir. Much more suited to Burns text than those Eddi Reader adaptations.

Cestandrea said...

Thanks for sharing the stories about someone I never heard of, although I know the song, of course, for auld lang syne. Love this song

Poetikat said...

This past Saturday, one of our national papers had an article by one of their top writers on the subject of Burns. You may be interested to read it here:


I have always loved, "To a Mouse" and the "Twa Corbies".


yvette said...

Dave thank you for visiting my blog. I don't understand what you mean with a link? I put my name with your followers so you can click me on whenever you want. You have a very interesting blog, I'll be here later.

Nic said...

Have a wee sip of the good stuff for me and don't question the Haggis -- just swallow.



"Burns died at the age of thity seven from a bout of rheumatic fever caught as a result of falling asleep at the roadside (somewhat the worse for drink) in pouring rain. The last of Burns' children was actually born during his funeral service."

I did not know this. Poetic, isn't it...the exchange of life and death? Bittersweet.

Anonymous said...

成人聊天室,中部人聊天室,免費視訊,視訊交友,視訊美女,視訊做愛,正妹牆,美女交友,玩美女人,美女,美女寫真,美女遊戲,hi5,hilive,hi5 tv,a383,微風論壇,微風,伊莉,伊莉討論區,伊莉論壇,sogo論壇,台灣論壇,plus論壇,plus,痴漢論壇,維克斯論壇,情色論壇,性愛,性感影片,校園正妹牆,正妹,AV,AV女優,SEX,走光,a片,a片免費看,A漫,h漫,成人漫畫,免費A片,色情網站,色情遊戲,情色文學,麗的色遊戲,色情,色情影片,同志色教館,色色網,色遊戲,自拍,本土自拍,kk俱樂部,後宮電影院,後宮電影,85cc免費影城,85cc免費影片,免費影片,免費小遊戲,免費遊戲,小遊戲,遊戲,好玩遊戲,好玩遊戲區,A片,情趣用品,遊戲區,史萊姆好玩遊戲,史萊姆,遊戲基地,線上遊戲,色情遊戲,遊戲口袋,我的遊戲口袋,小遊戲區,手機遊戲,貼圖,我的遊戲口袋,小遊戲區,手機遊戲,貼圖