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
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