Sunday, January 25, 2009

Happy Birthday, Robert Burns

Today is Burns Day. That is wholly irrelevant to Indiana, to Anderson, to politics. What it is relevant to is my mother's mother was a Livingston and my mother's father was a Downes. My mother's side of the family promoted the Scots ancestry a bit more than the rest of the ancestors. In memory of them and of Robbie Burns, I give you the following:

The defence for Robert Burns
While in Edinburgh, Burns wrote several poems commemorating the life and work of the recently deceased Robert Fergusson, his immediate precursor in the art of Scots poetry and song. Both Fergusson and Allan Ramsay provided him with validating examples of a vernacular poetry which drew on rather than apologized for the strength, energy and occasional ferocity of everyday speech. Burns also found in this Scots language tradition his characteristic stanza, the “Standard Habbie”, the shorter fourth and sixth lines of which provide the perfect vehicle for his ruminative asides and biting comments. Some of Burns's early Scottish and English readers unquestionably regretted his use of what they regarded as a semi-barbarous dialect. It is worth remembering that Burns’s language was as remote from many of his Edinburgh readers, with their “improved" manners and speech, as it was from his London audience; his work has needed a glossary from the first moment of its publication. The use of Scots was, though, a gesture of solidarity with an idea of Scotland rapidly fading in a country increasingly conceived of as part of a larger, imperial whole; and it is when Burns’s poetry makes contact with the everyday speech of his contemporaries that it comes to life. His forays into the bland and formulaic poetic diction of Augustan English serve as a kind of foil against which the demotic passages shine all the more brightly. In the “Address to the Deil”, for instance, the poet’s confession of his own sins is followed by an assertion that he might yet escape the Devil’s clutches: “But faith! He’ll turn a corner jinkan / And cheat you yet”. This “jink” or sudden change of direction is the last resource of the desperate fugitive, the weak man’s chance to outsmart and outmanoeuvre the strong; it is a word that encodes a social history. It was Wordsworth, some fifteen years later, who stated that poetry should use “a selection of the language really used by men”; but it was Burns who succeeded in this aim more thoroughly and consistently than his English successor. Placed alongside Burns's vernacular verse, with its roots deep in the life of his community, many of Wordsworth’s efforts look like anaemic, academic exercises.
The Sunday Herald - What the Bard means to me.

A bit of his poetry from Robert Burns Country: 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."

(Which is a good sentiment to remember in these post-George W. Bush days.)

Another poem, Robert Burns Country: Address To A Haggis

And, if you feel the need for a haggis, go here for recipes.

Finish with a bit from The Scotsman:
In the Year of Homecoming, which officially ends on St Andrew's Day on November 30, Scots descendants and expatriates from around the world are being invited to visit Scotland. Today, meanwhile, the 250th anniversary of the Bard's birth in a stone cottage in Alloway will be celebrated by a range of events throughout the country, although his Ayrshire and Dumfriesshire stamping grounds will remain at the heart of the activities.

The showpiece is Burns Light, for which Dumfries has been preparing for months. Three thousand lanterns have already been made, but organisers expected a rush to last-minute workshops yesterday so there could well be many more.

Over 100 community lantern workshops have already taken place, with groups including 42 schools, Guides, Scouts, Brownies, Cubs, after school clubs, church groups, local charities, local businesses, community groups and Boys Brigades. Some villages are chartering buses to bring families and entire primary school rolls to Dumfries to take part in the processions.

The spectacular finale will be the fire sculpture, believed to be the biggest Tam O' Shanter in the world and weighing in at 4 tonnes. Tam, made by local artists Alex Rigg and Trevor Leat, who make the Edinburgh Hogmanay fire sculptures, will be fired in the middle of the River Nith beside the medieval Devorgilla bridge. A concert featuring contemporary and ceilidh bands will then be held on the Whitesands stage.
I leave you with Inscription For An Altar Of Independence: At Kerroughtree, the Seat of Mr. Heron.:
"Thou of an independent mind,
With soul resolv'd, with soul resign'd;
Prepar'd Power's proudest frown to brave,
Who wilt not be, nor have a slave;
Virtue alone who dost revere,
Thy own reproach alone dost fear-
Approach this shrine, and worship here."

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