Friday, January 21, 2011

Robert Burns

For this post I want to talk about another art-form, namely poetry and I am going to unashamedly wrap myself in tartan (plaid for Americans), because January 25th is the birthday of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet.
He was born in Alloway in 1759 and died in Dumfries in 1796 at the age of 37.
In that short life he not only wrote poetry in Scots and English but he gathered and preserved traditional songs and ballads, the most well known being “Auld Lang Syne”.
As Scots continued to spread throughout the world they took with them many of the egalitarian ideas expressed in his works, and set-up societies to commemorate his life and works, until his name and fame encompassed the globe. What would he have thought of the fact that at the height of the cold war his birthday was celebrated both here in the USA, and in the Soviet Union, with both sides thinking they embodied his egalitarian ideals.

But what of his works?

For many one of the great love songs is, “My love like a red, red rose”, which is a traditional Scots songs preserved by Burns.
This is for Juliet
"My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose"

O my Luve's like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve's like the melodie
That’s sweetly play'd in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only Luve
And fare thee weel, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.

In the narrative poem “Tam o' Shanter”, Burns tells a cautionary tale of intemperance and other social ills. However, it has to be said that he was not exactly an example of moral rectitude, and had an over fondness for a “wee dram”, and the ladies, but he may have been acknowledging his earlier faults
The poem is written in a blend of Scots and English, and for me one of the English verses is a most beautiful expression of how fleeting life is.

But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flow'r, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snow falls in the river,
A moment white-then melts for ever;
Or like the Borealis race,
That flit ere you can point their place;
Or like the Rainbow's lovely form
Evanishing amid the storm. -
Nae man can tether Time nor Tide,
The hour approaches Tam maun ride;

Many familiar phrases have their origin in the works of Burns, for example we have all heard of:
Man's inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!

Or, the warning that:

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!
Or, bringing ourselves to account:
O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion:

But what right thinking person would not be moved by the final verse of “A Man’s a Man for A’ That”.
Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s coming yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.

If you would like to learn more about Burns and his work go to the “Burns’ Country”
A recent article on the BBC announces a new iPhone app, with the complete works of Robert Burns

1 comment:

  1. You are so sweet. I still like to to believe that you wrote that poem for me.