To a bunch of disorganised muppets.

March 28, 2009

I’m not sure where to start with this story. They seem to have found a rare book containing Burns’ poetry in the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. So rare, in fact, that it has notes in Burns’ handwriting inside. Read the full story on the BBC site here.

Definitely not a wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie.

Definitely not a wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie.

The discovery raises several questions:

1. Who’s in charge at the museum that they could ‘miss’ this book?
2. Surely something that will ‘take pride of place in the new museum’ should have been properly cared for and respected before now?
3. Why on earth is the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum closed during the celebration to mark 250 years since Burns’ birth? Did they not know that we’d be celebrating it this year? Or did they just not care enough to bother?

He was not only gifted with the way he used and delivered words, but he was patriotic and proud of being a Scot. He was also proud of his rural roots and came to realise that was what gave him his unique and enduring voice. He used wit, humour and acerbic comments to make sure his verse was always accessible to all. He enjoyed whisky and the company of ladies, making both something of a lifelong love affair. In his own words:

“A Scottish Bard, proud of the name, and whose highest ambition is to sing in his country’s service, where shall he so properly look for patronage as to the illustrious names of his native land: those who bear the honours and inherit the virtues of their ancestors? The poetic genius of my country found me, as the prophetic bard Elijah did Elisha – at the plough, and threw her inspiring mantle over me. She bade me sing the loves, the joys, the rural scenes and rural pleasures of my native soil, in my native tongue; I tuned my wild, artless notes as she inspired.” Robert Burns, April 4, 1787.

Most people will have heard some Burns’ poetry, whether at a Burns Supper or even from school. Some of his less well-known poetry is fantastic. I’ve watched a few of the programmes BBC Scotland have shown as part of the year of celebration and they’ve been great. He never forgot where he came from, or how difficult a history Scotland had. He penned the iconic ‘Scots Wha Hae’ in 1793, and it served as an unofficial national anthem for many years. In fact, there is still a movement in Scotland to make it our national anthem today. It is inspired by his admiration for the 13th century patriot, William Wallace. As you read it you can’t help but be moved by his passion and belief. As a rallying cry it has few equals.

Scots, wha hae wi’ Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led,
Welcome to your gory bed,
Or to Victorie!

Now’s the day, and now’s the hour:
See the front o’ battle lour,
See approach proud Edward’s power –
Chains and Slaverie!

Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha will fill a coward’s grave?
Wha sae base as be a slave?
Let him turn and flee!

Wha, for Scotland’s King and Law,
Freedom’s sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand, or Freeman fa’,
Let him on wi’ me!

By Oppression’s woes and pains!
By your sons in servile chains!
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be free!

Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty’s in every blow! –
Let us do or die!

Pretty strong words from someone who’s best known for his romantic verse.

You can see his acerbic approach in ‘For Gavin Hamilton’. He has a go at authority for persecuting Hamilton for riding on a Sunday and also saying “damn it” in front of a minister. Things that to some people were hugely important. To the rest of us on planet earth they seemed barely worth a mention. And it’s that self-importance that Burns continually has a go at. He seemed keen to let people live their lives without judgement from those he considered hypocritical.

“The poor man weeps–here Gavin sleeps,
Whom canting wretches blam’d:
But with such as he, where’er he be,
May I be sav’d or damn’d!”

Each year on January 25th Scots the world over celebrate the birthday of Rabbie Burns. Join in. Raise a glass (or two) and enjoy the freedom of thought that his poetry brings. Because much of it still has relevance today and resonates as keenly as it ever did.
Sláinte Mhath (good health).

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