Tuesday 25 January 2011

Robert Burns

Burns Night is on the 25th of January.  I was born on the 26th of January and my mother tells me I would have been named Robert Burns Bradbury if I'd been born a day earlier. Mind you, my mother says a lot of things to wind me up.  It might have been quite nice though.

If you're a Scot Rabbie Burns is a part of your life.  You may not notice it, but he is.  In my home town of Arbroath there is a big statue of RB outside the public library.  The nation's bard is there to inspire us all to enjoy literature.  It always seemed a bit subversive to me that the focus of civic pride, opposite the Auld Kirk (old church) in the centre of town, was a statue of a poet who fathered countless illegitimate children.  It was a good lesson in life that you don't have to be conventional to be a genius.

Today I took my complete works of Robert Burns from the shelf and took a trip down memory lane.  There, on the page, was the "Address to the Haggis" I so painstakingly learned for a recitation at the school Burns supper when I was 16.  I can still recite the first two verses if you need a haggis addressing.  Neurones are funny things.

But more importantly there was "To A Mouse" with the timeless warning:

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes 
o' mice an 'men Gang aft agley,
An'lea'e us nought 
but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

and then "To a Lousewhich identifies the greatest gift of all, self knowledge.

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion:
What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us,
An' ev'n devotion!

But more than any other poem, "A Man's a Man for a' That" is a powerful statement of the dignity of the common man that makes Burns immortal not only in Scotland, but all around the world.

I was reluctant to pick a verse because you really should read every word, but let me give you the last verse, and hope that the optimism you so seldom hear these days will live with you even for today.

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.