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Thursday, 25 January 2007

Burns Night

Tonight is Burns Night. What that 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",
Less so, perhaps:
"A Man's a Man for a' that", "To a Mouse" and "Address to a Haggis".

For these poems and others, with texts, also facts about the poet and much else, click on the title of this blog.

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 in which the drunk man finds himself lying helplessly on a moonlit hillside, staring at a thistle and meditating on its jaggedness and its beauty. This becomes a metaphor for the divided state of Scotland - and much else, as the meditations become varied and far-ranging.

But here he is 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!"

If you do not know the poems of MacDiarmid, you should certainly see about putting that right.
You will not agree with all his sentiments, but you surely will enjoy disagreeing.

Here he is, for example, 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!"

Start at the link I have given - the poems have a glossary running alongside. Enjoy!

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