Sunday, January 25, 2009

250th Birthday of Scottish Poet Robert Burns - Born 25 January 1759 [UPDATED]

Today is the 250th anniversary of the birth of Scotland's greatest poet, Robert Burns. Below is a Burns poem that will be recited many times throughout the world tonight in the bard's honour:
Address To A Haggis

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

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin was help to mend a mill
In time o'need,
While thro' your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An' cut you up wi' ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin', rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an' strive:
Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
Bethankit! hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad make her spew
Wi' perfect sconner,
Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckles as wither'd rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash;
His nieve a nit;
Thro' blody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He'll mak it whissle;
An' legs an' arms, an' hands will sned,
Like taps o' trissle.

Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o' fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer
Gie her a haggis!
And here is my favorite Burns poem:
Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led,
Welcome to your gory bed,
Or to victory!

Now's the day, and now's the hour;
See the front o' battle lour,
See approach proud Edward's power—
Chains and slavery!

Wha will be a traitor-knave?
Wha can fill a coward's grave?
Wha sae base as be a slave?
Let him turn and flee!

Wha for Scotland's king and law
Freedom's sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand or freeman fa',
Let him follow me!

By oppression's woes and pains,
By your sons in servile chains,
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be free!

Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in ev'ry foe!
Liberty's in ev'ry blow!
Let us do or die!

That's me about 3 days before my first encounter with a haggis, which took place during Sarah's and my honeymoon in Scotland.

Happy birthday, Rabbie. I'll drink a wee dram of the single malt to your memory this Burns Night.

Further Reading:

Burns National Heritage Park

BBC - Burns Night - Homepage

On the trail of Robert Burns in Scotland

World marks 250th anniversary of Robert Burns in day of celebrations

Bard's birthday launches Homecoming Scotland

Scotland turns to 18th-century poet for economic stimulus

The Scottish Haggis Website

UPDATE (26 January)
Christian Science Monitor: Scotland turns to 18th-century poet for economic stimulus

Dumfries, Scotland - Can an 18th-century poet help save Scotland’s faltering economy?

Keen to find ways of boosting the economy as it heads into increasingly dark times, the Scottish government recently unveiled an initiative that banks on famed poet Robert Burns to lure tourists to visit and invite expatriate Scots to come home.

This year is the 250th anniversary of the poet’s birth and the start of a year-long celebration across Scotland, much of it centered here in Dumfries, where Burns was born.

Standing by the original manuscript of Burns’s “Auld Lang Syne” in Edinburgh’s National Library of Scotland, the country’s first minister, Alex Salmond, used his New Year message to describe the “Homecoming Scotland,” initiative:

“As we enter a new year, a wonderful opportunity presents itself to turn a threatened tourism downturn into a visitor boom.”

Economic stimulus or political diversion?

Political opponents, while supporting the idea of a homecoming, see the first minister’s enthusiasm as little more than an attempt to deflect attention from the country’s economic problems and promote his own agenda of Scottish independence. Mr. Salmond wants to hold a referendum on a split with the rest of the United Kingdom in 2010.

Since 1999, the country has had its own parliament, but remains within the UK, alongside England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. It has powers over education and healthcare, but others, like defense and foreign affairs remain with the Westminster government in London. Salmond wants Scotland to go one step further and become completely independent.

Whatever his intentions, Scotland is going to need all the help it can get this year. The Scottish Council for Development and Industry predicts 2009 will be an “incredibly difficult year” for Scotland’s economy, with negative growth expected for the first time in almost three decades.

Tourism totals $5.5 billion a year

Tourism, still very strong here, is viewed as part of the solution. It’s one of Scotland’s biggest industries, drawing $5.5 billion from tourists and providing about 200,000 jobs – roughly one out of every 12 jobs.

Few, if any, places have stronger links to Burns than Dumfries, a picturesque town of about 30,000 people near the border with England. It was once said that Dumfries was “The grandest city in the world, for thou hast Burns’s grave.” With this in mind, many here are banking on “Homecoming Scotland” being translated into a sharp increase in visitors this year.

Among the town’s other Burns’s sites is the Globe Inn, Burns’s favorite pub, which retains the same wood panels and beams, and even the “Burns’s chair,” where the poet once held court. Pub owner Marion McKerrow welcomes the homecoming plans.

“It’s time to highlight what Robert Burns is about and the attraction he is all over the world,” she says.

A poor boy named ‘Rabbie’

Robert Burns – better known as Rabbie – was born in Ayrshire on Scotland’s west coast in 1759. One of seven children, he grew up in poverty and hardship, but was well-educated by his father, reading the Bible and Shakespeare from an early age. He had some schooling and began writing verses while also working as a farm laborer and plowman.

He went on to write scores of poems and songs in the Scots dialect and became known as “The Ploughman Poet.” His works include “O my Luve’s Like a Red, Red Rose,” “Address To a Haggis,” and “Scots Wha Hae,” once considered Scotland’s unofficial national anthem. He enjoyed tremendous success and travelled all over Scotland, settling in Dumfries before his death at 37.

This weekend is key test

The first real test of the year’s initiative will come this weekend as the homecoming year is launched with events in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dumfries, and Ayrshire. Jan. 25th each year is known as Burns Night, when people gather for traditional suppers of haggis, neaps and tatties (turnips and potatoes), and to hear readings from Burns’s works. In Dumfries, four lantern processions will make their way through the town, converging for a fire show and a display of traditional celtic music ahead of one of the country’s biggest Burns suppers.

Skeptics of the initiative, including Elaine Murray, Dumfries’ Labour Member of the Scottish Parliament, asks what impression visitors will get of town’s like Dumfries if the Scottish Government doesn’t do more to rescue the economy.

“What they’re going to see is a pretty empty looking High Street with a lot of closed- down shops,” she says. “We need to know how the Scottish Government intends to promote town center regeneration…. All we’ve got here is warm words and nothing very substantial at all.”

Mr. Salmond, however, spoke in his New Year message of a “spirit of optimism abroad that will pull us through the hard times.” He ended his address by quoting from Burns’s poem “For A’ That and A’ That:”

“For a’ that, an a’ that,
It’s comin yet for a’ that,
That man to man the warld o’er,
Shall brithers (brothers) be for a’ that.”

Many in Dumfries hope he’s right.
Here's the Homecoming Scotland ad featuring famous Scots such as Sean Connery singing "Caledonia":

Pretty cheesy. I'm not sure the bard would approve.

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At 1/25/2009 10:04 PM, Blogger RICHARD K. MUNRO said...

Yes what day St. Paul's Birthday and Robert Burn's birthday.

There is no question that Scots Wha Hae is one of the great poems to liberty. If you ever go to Ayr you can read the original copy in Robbie's own hand! That was a great thrill for me. There is also a wonderful collection of his complete songs on MUSICSCOTLAND.COM
You can by a selection or the whole set. Some of the poems are recited but most are sung.

At 1/25/2009 10:25 PM, Anonymous Donald R. McClarey said...

I've always loved the poetry of Burns, especially this one:

Man's a Man for A' That
By Robert Burns, 1795
"Is there for honest poverty
That hings his head, an a' that?
The coward slave, we pass him by -
We dare be poor for a' that!
For a' that, an a' that!
Our toils obscure, an a' that,
The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The man's the gowd for a' that.

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hodding grey, an a' that?
Gie fools their skills, and knaves their wine -
A man's a man for a' that.
For a' that, an a' that,
Their tinsel show, an a' that,
The honest man, tho e'er sae poor,
Is king o men for a' that.

Ye see yon birkie ca'd 'a lord,'
Wha struts, an stares, an a' that?
Tho hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a cuif for a' that.
For a' that, an a' that,
His ribband, star, an a' that,
The man o independent mind,
He looks an laughs at a' that.

A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an a' that!
But an honest man's aboon his might -
Guid faith, he mauna fa' that!
For a' that, an a' that,
Their dignities, an a' that,
The pith o sense an pride o worth,
Are higher rank than 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 brithers be for a' that."

However, if it were possible for a dish to be declared a crime against humanity, I think haggis, yetch!, would top the list.

At 1/25/2009 10:28 PM, Blogger RICHARD K. MUNRO said...

A Man's a Man for A' That is a masterpiece of Locke's natural rights philosphy put into verse!

At 1/25/2009 10:32 PM, Blogger RICHARD K. MUNRO said...


At 1/25/2009 10:34 PM, Blogger RICHARD K. MUNRO said...

Fair is the morn in flow'ry May,
And sweet is night in autumn mild,
When roving thro' the garden gay,
Or wand'ring in the lonely wild;
But woman nature's darling child
There all her charms she does compile;
|: E'en there her other works are foil'd :|
By the bonnie lass O' Ballochmyle.
The bonnie lass O' Ballochmyle
The bonnie lass!
The bonnie, bonnie lass!
The bonnie lasso' Ballochmyle.

2. O had she been a country maid,
And I the happy country swain,
Tho' shelter'd in the lowest shed
That ever rose on Scotland's plain!
Thro' weary winter's wind and rain,
Withjoy, with rapture, I would toil;
|: And nightly to my bosom strain, :|
The bonnie lass O' Ballochmyle.

At 1/25/2009 10:37 PM, Blogger RICHARD K. MUNRO said...

You might enjoy this website; there is a wonderful history of the Scots College in Rome and SONG OF SIXPENCE mentions a priest who graduated from the old Scots College in Valladolid.

At 1/26/2009 8:54 AM, Blogger Jay Anderson said...

I'm also partial to "A Parcel of Rogues in a Nation".


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