Every January 25th, people around the world – especially those of Scottish descent – raise a wee dram of their favourite single malt Scotch to the memory of the man known as the National Bard: Robbie Burns.
What makes a poet so hugely popular, even centuries after his demise? For one thing, Burns did more than just create original works of verse. He also collected traditional songs and hymns from around his native Scotland, updating and re-working them to preserve them for posterity. This service alone would have guaranteed him a place in history, for it ensured much of the lyric tradition of the Scots was kept alive, and not lost to the mists of time.
Burns also penned a voluminous amount of poetry, verse which touched the hearts and minds of readers everywhere. HIs subjects were simple, his language prosaic but forceful. He shared what was in his heart, revealing through his use of the Scots and English languages the true nature of the human soul. No one reading him could fail to be moved, or to relate to the feelings he expressed. Burns is credited to this day with ushering in the great Romantic Movement of poetry and prose.
He’s sometimes referred to as the Ploughman’s Poet, because even the simplest of folk could relate to his verse, and were often the subject of it. Among the many famous poems he wrote, one is a song that almost everyone knows, or at least everyone associated in any way with Western culture. Every December 31st at midnight, Auld Lang Syne (kind of like in old times) is sung by multitudes of revellers around the globe, since it’s the unofficial song that rings in every New Year.
Burns was a prodigious writer, which is all the more amazing given the fact he was dirt poor almost his entire life, and died at the age of 37 with nary a shilling to show for all his effort. He had several love affairs, and several children, as well; but never officially married. He was no question a romantic at his core, and one of his famous poems does justice to this aspect of his personality. Just for fun, let’s take a look at how he might have worked on it…
Robbie Burns at Work
My love is like a runny nose
that sniffles in the Spring
My love is like a pair of hose
that hold my passion in
My love is like your painted toes
which hide the corns therein”
“Hmph. Dinna think so”
My love is like the finest clothes
that ne’er can we afford”
“Ill-feckit junk. Hm…”
My love is like the wind that blows
after we’ve dined on eggs and groat
“True, but odious”
My love is like the wart that grows
on the end of your pointed nose”
“Och, aye, that’ll get me supper; in m’ face”
My love is like a red red rose
that’s newly sprung in June
“Here, now tha’ has potential!”
Those last lines of verse precede one of the most beautiful English language poems ever written, My love is like a red red rose, and if had been the only one he wrote it still would’ve put Burns high on the list of memorable Romantic poets.
The work he did given the life he led show us that no matter our circumstances, great things can be accomplished in humble ways, and by the humblest of people.
For Robbie Burns was no diva; he was humility personified, refusing charity even when he needed it most, revealing in his poetry the lives, loves and lands of the Scots people he was a part of, and whom he adored.
Ciao for now!
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THE BLOCK BARD