Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Robert Burns Wisdom

On Thursday 25th January, Scots all over the world will be celebrating Burns Night again when our national bard is remembered at many a Burns Supper in song, drink and food, as well as poetry of course. From the moment the haggis, that Great Chieftain o' the Puddin' Race, is piped in, through the immortal memory and various toasts, a great night is promised to all who attend.

One of the reasons I appreciate Burns today is the wonderful wisdom contained in many of his verses. He might have been known as the 'farmer-poet, but he was a very well educated man who mixed with the best of Enlightenment society in Edinburgh in the 18th century. It's the often profound insight into his fellow man, and beast, that sets his poetry apart, whether in Scots dialect or 'correct' English.

The Selkirk Grace, given before the sumptuous feast begins, is cleverly succinct:

Some hae meat and cannae eat;
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.

I used lines from some of his poetry at the top of the contemporary chapters for The Highland Lass, some of which loosely fitted the subject of the chapter. Here are a few of my favourites.

'Follies past, give thou to air,
Make their consequence thy care.'

'How wisdom and folly meet, and unite;
How virtue and vice blend their black and white.'

'Some sort all our qualities each to its tribe,
And think human nature they truly describe.'

And finally, one of my favourites:

'Then gently scan your brother man,
Still gentler sister woman;
Though they may gang a kennin' wrang,
To step aside is human.'

The alternate chapters of The Highland Lass tell the story of Robert Burns and Highland Mary, one which fascinated me since childhood since Mary was buried in my home town. It also gave me an excuse to pay homage to my beloved west coast of Scotland and some of the places I most loved to explore.

Here's the trailer I made when it was published - might as well give it another outing!

Happy Burns Night, if you celebrate it.


Rae Cowie said...

And a Happy Burns' Night to you too, Rosemary. The Selkirk grace always takes me back to my time as a Brownie and a Guide when our local Commissioner used it at camps. Happy days...

Julia Thorley said...

My lack of knowledge about Burns shames me. I must rectify this.

Jean Bull said...

I hope you enjoyed Burn's Night, Rosemary!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for your lovely comment, Rae - can just imagine the Brownie camp!

I think we were force-fed his poetry at school, Julia, and even had a Burns recitation competition (I did win it though!) which they still have in many schools.

Thanks, Jean!

Wendy's Writing said...

I’ve never been to a Burns Night celebration. Hope you had a good time.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks, Wendy - your comment reminded me I hadn't updated the blog! Now rectified.