Robert Burns: We Honour You


Burns Night Celebration Suppers are, in my experience, whilst I hail from Wordsworth country I do have family connections to the Clan Macfarlane, rather grand affairs involving beautiful traditions such as piping of the haggis, a toast to the lassies and of course the passing around and sharing amongst friends of the quaich filled with whisky.


Whilst we are not able to don our finery and reel until dawn with our darling friends we cannot let the day pass without a few words about Scotland's immortal bard - Robert Burns.


As a rather precocious and probably slightly pretentious ten year old child of working parents I would regularly take myself off to the local library. Then, it seemed all public libraries were hushed quiet expanses with polished parquet floors and dark wooden shelves filled with hardback books minus their dust jackets.


I would take home several books at a time, some simply because I liked the names of the authors - Ursula Le Guin - but mostly I would tip tap up the stairs in my Freeman Hardy Willis loafers, this nearly always instigated a loud "hush" and a medusa like stare from the librarian whose desk was placed squarely near the bottom of the stairs, to the poetry section on the first floor.


The poetry section was plainly not for children, not a Kaye Webb or Roger McGough in sight but this is where I found my love for Robert Burns.


I do not recall the reason why, maybe because these were considered exclusively for grown ups and I was the holder of a children's library card, but these books could not be taken home to be consumed by torch light under a duvet, so I would plant myself at a small square formica table in the window overlooking the fishpond which I think they added to make the new redbrick multi storey carpark look more appealing to the towns folk, and consume large volumes of Yates, Wordsworth, Dylan Thomas and what soon became a favourite, Robert Burns. I certainly did not understand what I was reading but in the same way one read Shakespeare at school I let it wash around my head and I loved the way it ebbed and flowed.


Rather like The Water Lilies series painted by Monet so much myth and marketing has grown hard and fast around Scotlands greatest popular poet that it is possible that the poetic gifts of Robert Burns have been obscured.


Despite his background, his Jacobian loyalty and, should all the stories be believed, his very amorous love life his contribution to literature is immense. There are many tales of his life of dissipation and debauchery but surely this is part of what lead him to the lofty heights of greatness, one cannot write such glorious words about love without falling head over heels in love and then loosing that love, one cannot write about rebellion without the strength of heartfelt beliefs, even his address to a haggis is a written translation of his admiration for his fellow Scots. The haggis dish was discovered by the displaced people after the Highland Clearances who had little or nothing to eat. He felt it represented the Scots resourcefulness and resolve compared to the wasteful and reckless English.


It is Robert Burns love of his native land of Scotland and its people that powered his work and pushed its dialects and traditions to the forefront of poetic literature in his time, since his time and for generations to come.


Around me scowls a wintry sky,

Blasting each bud of hope and joy;

And shelter, shade, nor home have I;

Save in these arms of thine, Love.


"Forlorn, My Love, No Comfort Near" Robert Burns 1795


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