Sunday, 24 January 2016

Burns Night

It would be very remiss of me not to mention Burns Night, which is celebrated all over the world on January 25th, since our national bard is one of the characters in the historical chapters of The Highland Lass. Although it's more about Highland Mary's story, Robert Burns does of course figure in it since he was Mary Campbell's great love.

I am a fan of his poems and songs, finding so much wisdom about human nature in them. As well as being a farmer and poet, Burns was also a popular figure of the Edinburgh Enlightenment, perfectly at home in the salons of Edinburgh in the second half of the eighteenth century. When the crops on his farm failed, he also became an Exciseman in 1789, or a 'poor damn’d rascally gager', as he called himself. He had mixed feelings about such an unpopular post but needed a paying job, though it didn't stop him writing a song called The Deil's awa wi' the Exciseman. Here's a sample mentioning some of the popular dances of the time:

“There’s threesome reels, there’s foursome reels,
There’s hornpipes and strathspeys, man,
But the ae best dance that cam’ tae the land
Was the de’ils awa’ wi’ the Exciseman.”

It's remarkable to think that this humble farmer poet from Ayrshire is not only remembered in Scotland but is celebrated so well in other countries. I suspect that those who claim Scots ancestry probably make more of Burns Night than many of us do at home!

The above is a photo of Burns Cottage at Alloway where Robert Burns was born and below is the Auld Kirk where one of his best-loved characters, Tam O'Shanter, saw the witches dancing before fleeing across the Auld brig on his mare, closely followed by the younger witch who grabbed at the poor horse's tale.


We might not all like haggis, although it's quite tasty with mashed potatoes and turnip, but I'm sure many a person will be willing to raise a wee dram to the poet's memory on Burns Night. And if you do happen to attend a Burns Supper, you'll no doubt hear the Address to the Haggis, after it's brought to the table on a silver platter accompanied by the sound of the bagpipes. It begins: 

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, 
Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o' a grace
As lang's my arm.

Slàinte Mhath! Good health!

P.S. Apologies for the variety of font sizes - can't seem to get it to behave today.


Jennifer Young said...

Lovely post, Rosemary...I admit to being no great fan of Burns the man (too much of a philanderer for my taste) but you have to hand it to him - he knew how to write a poem!

Gwen Kirkwood said...

I left a long comment and it has disappeared!

Helena Fairfax said...

Slàinte, Rosemary! Thanks for the interesting facts about Burns. I know the song The Exciseman, but I had no idea Burns wrote it - or that he was one! Hope you enjoy Burns night tomorrow!

Wendy's Writing said...

Thank you for such an interesting post, Rosemary. It made me realise how little I knew about the man.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

He did indeed, Jennifer, and I suspect I would have liked his cheeky charm!

It was good of you to comment at all, Gwen, thanks!

Thanks, Helena - I had a full article about his life as an Exciseman published in The Highlander in the US some years ago but had to make do with a brief mention here!

You're welcome, Wendy - many people know he was a farmer and poet but he had a fascinating, though short life.

Bill Kirton said...

A nice, timely post, Rosemary. Burns Night and Burns's poetry are two of the great things Scotland has contributed to civilisation (although the former sometimes can become relatively uncivilised). I've spoken at a few Burns Suppers over the years but only once dared to try the address to the haggis - and that was in France to a group of French people whose English was rudimentary so I was ready to risk it. The moment I plunged my sgian dubh into the beast brought appropriate gasps from them.

Julia Thorley said...

Interesting post, Rosemary. I'm shamefully ignorant of Burns' life and works, which is a real gap. I blame the English education system!

Barb Massabrook said...

I love this post and I am a huge fan of Robbie Burns though I love he got the fame he deserves as I think his poetry deserves it. .I knew of his humble background and I think in a way more people can relate to then the aristocratic Stuart's etc. So Happy Birthday to the finest bard that ever lived and I will salute with a dram of uisce beath! Sláinte Mhath!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

I can imagine the reaction at that piercing of the haggis, Bill! Thanks for dropping by.

I suspect Scottish children are sadly lacking in knowledge about the bard too, Julia!

Hi Barb - thanks for dropping by! Burns was indeed a fine poet and had an uncanny insight into humanity in all its forms.

Jean Bull said...

A belated Happy Burns Night! We found a statue of him in Dunedin when we were watching the biggest bagpipe competition, I think, in the world!

Rae Cowie said...

Ashamed to admit I'd never heard of Highland Mary and her connection to Burns until you enlightened me, Rosemary. So glad to have read The Highland Lass. Hope everyone is sober again today!

Joanna said...

I really enjoyed this post, Rosemary, and found out lots of facts I didn't know. The cottage is gorgeous and I also love the image of the dancing witches! I hope you enjoyed Burns Night! xxx

Rosemary Gemmell said...

That must have been fun, Jean!

Many thanks, Rae - I'm glad you learned something new!

Thank you, Joanna - the whole poem of Tam O'Shanter is wonderful!