Friday, 25 January 2008

Happy birthday Rabbie

Today is the 249th birthday of the world's greatest poet, Robert Burns. Alex Salmond has announced that Burns is his favourite Scot, and with good reason. Burns is a man for all time. Born into poverty, yet into a society which prized education and believed that a man should rise as far as his ability, ambition and luck could take him.

He was no Scottish Nationalist in the modern sense, though. In the 18th Century, it was said that Tories were Jacobites when drunk and Hanoverians when they were sober. That, I think, is where we can best place Burns. He had a romantic attachment to the Jacobite songs and traditions, yet he was a lowland, Presbyterian Scot who took a Government job and was realistic enough to see that Jacobitism was finished.

Would his life have had a happier ending if Nancy McLehose had not rejected his overtures? According to legend, she was the only woman who ever turned down the old shagger. It would certainly not have produced the incredibly poignant song Ae Fond Kiss. My favourite poem has to be Tam o'Shanter, though. It is both a thriller and light-hearted.

And what other poet would have called a poem "Cock up your Beaver"? Did he know the title was ambiguous? Of course he did.

The final two verses of "Address to the Unco Guid" speak to all of us:

Then gently scan your brother man
Still gentler sister woman
Tho’ they may gang a kennin wrang
To step aside is human.
One point must still be greatly dark
The moving Why they do it
And just as lamely can ye mark
How far, perhaps, they rue it.

Who made the heart, ’tis He alone
Decidedly can try us
He knows each chord, its various tone
Each spring, its various bias
Then at the balance let’s be mute
We never can adjust it
What’s done we partly may compute
But know not what’s resisted.

God bless you, Rabbie!

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