Happy Robbie Burns Day! In honour of the famous bard, I am revisiting a post from a couple of years ago, with best wishes to everyone for a good day, even if you’re not lucky enough to be Scottish. If you are interested in Burns, you could do worse than look up Andrew O’Hagan’s book:
A Night Out With Robert Burns: The Greatest Poems arranged by Andrew O’Hagan. McClelland & Stewart, 2008.
Great Scot! It’s Robert Burns Day! Rabbie Burns, Scotland’s favorite son, the Bard of Ayrshire, was born on January 25, 1759. Now, people of Scottish descent all around the world celebrate the great poet on this, his birthday. In Canada, where many Scots settled in the early days of the country, Burns is remembered by memorials across the country. Halifax, Fredericton, Montreal, Toronto, Winsor, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Vancouver and Victoria all have Burns monuments.
Even if, sadly, you don’t have a drop of Scottish blood, nor any interest in poetry, you likely are familiar with some of Burns’ works. Every New Year’s Eve, people around the world sing Auld Lang Syne, a Burns poem that is set to the tune of a traditional folksong, Can Ye Labour Lea.
Perhaps in high school you read John Steinbeck’s 1937 novel, Of Mice and Men. The title is taken from a line in Burns poem To a Mouse on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough 1785: The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, Gang aft agley.
Or perhaps you’ve heard a snippet from A Red, Red Rose:
O my Luve’s like a red, red rose,
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly play’d in tune–
Andrew O’Hagan’s book offers up the most popular of Burns’ poems. Each is introduced with a bit of personal commentary or background information, and there is a glossary at the end of the book to help with deciphering some of the old Scottish words. Even so, it can be hard to interpret some of the language. It helps to have Google on hand! For those willing to make the effort, there are rewards to reap. Below is a nice side-by-side interpretation of To a Mouse, courtesy of Wikipedia. Closing this post is a photo (Wikipedia) of Burns Cottage, his birthplace, located a few miles south of Ayr. For many years, a small souvenir-style ceramic replica of Burns Cottage stood on a shelf in my Scottish grandparent’s dining room, my grandmother having grown up in Ayr. It’s what I always think of when I think of Burns.