Friday, January 25, 2008


Aye me wee laddies an' lassies, taday be the grate an' glorious feast o' the birthin' o' Rabbie Burrrrns, national poet o' swait Scotland. Robbie Burns (January 25, 1759 - July 21, 1796) has become something of a cult figure, both in Scotland itself and in the worldwide Scottish diaspora. Born the eldest of the 7 children of William Burness and Agnes Broun two miles south of Ayr in Alloway, South Ayrshire, Scotland he lived in the house that his father had built until he was seven years old. At that time his father sold the house and became a tenant farmer at the Mount Oliphant farm southeast of Alloway. Here Robbie Burns grew up in poverty and hard work. He rfeceived very little official schooling. He was taught by his father, a self-educated man, and one John Murdoch, an iterant teacher of the district. Through his young adulthood he worked as a farm labourer and as a flax dresser, all the while carrying on quite a number of love affairs that made him rather unpopular amongst the strict religious parishoners of the locality. He fathered his first illegitimate child in 1785 and had several others, most illegitimate and legitimate.

Burns began his literary career in April, 1786 when, at the suggestion of his brother he published the volume 'Poems: Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect' . His success was immediate, and he became well known across Scotland. At one of the many literary gatherings to which he was invited he impressed the then 16 year old Walter Scott as having eyes that he had never again seen in any other man. Burns carryed on with his womanizing while in Edinburgh where he fathered another illegitimate child, Robert Burns Clow, with Jenny Clow in 1788. While in Ediburgh he met James Johnson, a music engraver and seller, and between them they began the 'Scots Musical Museum' to which he contributed (either writing or gathering) about a third of the 600 songs in the collection. Many of Burns' efforts were of songs such as 'Auld Lang Syne' . he contributed over 100 songs to 'The Meolodies of Scotland', was a major contributer to 'A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs for the Voice' . Burns would usually compose the tune for the songs before he finished the words. One of his most amusing efforts is the 'Merry Muses of Caledonia' , a collection of bawdy traditional folk songs. He often used the tunes of older songs for his own song poems. Auld Lang Syne, for instance, is set to the tune of 'Can Ye Labour Lea' .

Burns wrote extensively in standard English (the language of his political tracts), the Scots dialect and in Scots Gaelic. He focused on many themes including republicanism, radicalism, Scottish patriotism, anti-clericalism, issues of class oppression, gender roles, poverty, sex, partying and many aspects of Scottish culture. Burns' works greatly influenced many subsequent socialist and radical writers such as Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Steinbeck. Over at Le Revue Gauche megablogger Eugene Plawiuk has faithfully commemorated Robbie Burns day each year since 2005, and much information on Burns' radical views can be found there. This year is no exception, and references to his blogs on RB Day in previous years can be found there. The flavour of Burns' anti-clerical sentiments may be guaged from the following extract from 'No Churchman Am I', a song he published in 1782:

" No churchman am I, for to rail and to write,
No statesman nor soldier to plot or to fight,
No sly man of business contriving a snare,
For a big-belly'd bottle's the whole of my care.

The peer I don't envy, I give him his bow;
I scorn not the peasant, though ever so low;
But a club of good fellows, like those that are here,
And a bottle like this, are my glory and care.

Here passes the squire on his brother-his horse;
There centum per centum, the cit with his purse;
But see you the Crown, how it waves in the air ?
There a big-belly'd bottle still eases my care.

The wife of my bosum, alas! she did die;
for sweet consolation to church I did fly;
I found that old Solomon proved it fair,
That a big belly'd bottle's a cure for all care."

Robbie Burns' Day is traditionally celebrated by the Robbie Burns' Supper. This has become a much more popular event than the official Scottish national day, St. Andrew's Day, let alone the North American proposal of Tartan Day. It has had a format that hasn't varied since the time of the poet's death. The event begins with the host's welcoming speech and the 'Selkirk Grace'. There is then the soup course, usually something like Scotch Broth, Potatoe Soup or Cock-a-Leekie. Then comes the highlight of the evening, the "piping-in" of the haggis. if you don't know haggis then your education is incomplete. See this website for haggis recipes and other matters related to things "haggishy". be aware that the alternative recipes are arranged, "in order of increasing use of animal parts that would normally be thrown away". The ceremony continues with a recitation of Burns' 'Address To a Haggis", performed either by the host or by somebody with acting talent. It begins as follows (see the Robbie Burns' Supper website for the complete poem):
"Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftan o' the puddin-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch,tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o' a grace
As lang's my arm.
The cutting open of the haggis is the highlight of the evening. After this has been done there is a toast to the pur wee haggis. See the websiote cited above for more details. If you are interested in things "Burnsian" try browsing the foillowing sites. Don't forget to visit Le Revue Gauche for comment on the politics of Burns.
*Scottish Government Site on Burns
*The Burns Federation
*National Burns Collection
*The Bard
*The Works of Robbie Burns (collected works on project Guttenberg, very good reference site)
Hey, here's a special treat. Many of Burns' works have become part of international culture, including that song that everybody tries to drunkenly sing at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve (Hogmanny in Scotland). Ever met anyone who knew all the words to 'Auld Lang Syne' ? probably not, and if they did once know them said memory is irretrievable at midnight Jan 1. So, here as a special public service, are the complete lyrics of Auld Land Syne. memorize them now and amaze your friends next New Years.
"For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And auld lang syne.
And surely ye'll be your pint stowp,
And surely I'll be mine;
And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.
We twa hae run about the braes,
And pou'd the gowans fine;
But we've wander'd morry a weary fit,
Sin' auld lang syne.
We twa hae paidl'd in the burn,
Frae mornin' sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
Sin' auld lang syne.
And ther's a hand, my trusty fiere !
And gie's a hand o' thine !
And we'll tak a right gude-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.

No comments: