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INTRO TO BURNS

In the year 2000, the people of Scotland voted Robert Burns as the greatest Scotsman who ever lived---an extraordinary election considering the deeds and fame of so many Scots in world history. But such recognition is really minor to his true worth as a poet for the world.

Burns is unique among all poets in the honor bestowed upon him annually at Burns Suppers all over the world, usually led with his “Selkirk Grace” and “Address to a Haggis”. Sponsored by hundreds of clubs and societies around the world dedicated to a celebration of Burns and his poetry, these events have been going on for over 200 years.

Among his gifts to us is the world anthem, “Auld Lang Syne”. Even though he wrote mostly in Scots dialect, there are familiar Burns lines translated in many languages. Many of these lines are used by people in everyday conversation without knowing who wrote them, just as they use Shakespeare.

His lyrical legacy is all the more remarkable because many of his “rhymes” were inspired when he was working the land as a young farmer, filling a life of hardship which he described most aptly as,

“the cheerless gloom of a hermit...with the unceasing toil of a galley slave."

Burns had a two-fold individuality and lived his life in two stages-- before publication of his Kilmarnock edition (1786) of poems and after.

As a young Ayrshire peasant farmer, for all his days of being cold and soaked to the bone in trying to make something of his little farm, Rabbie Burns never lost his capacity for "rantin' and rovin'". The love of a woman was a perpetual necessity of his soul. Women inspired his love poems and his respect for their majesty.(Is it preferable to say he was sexually promiscuous?) He enjoyed tavern life but not with neglect of his family or his poetry.

After Kilmarnock, he entered triumphantly into Edinburgh society, yet he remained in poverty for the rest of his life.Nonethless, he was celebrated like a movie star of today's culture. As P. Hately Waddell expressed it in his 1867 volume on the "Life and Works of Robert Burns"..."a marvel had appeared in Atrshire,like a comet,captivating-- a shameless winged charger and a gentle friend."

Living in an age when class and pomp and circumstance divided humanity so neatly and naturally the thought expressed in some of Burns' poetry was a liberating force. At a time when Tom Paine’s “The Rights of Man” was buzzing Europe, Burns wrote “The Rights of Woman”.

Some will not agree. As always, there are critics who want to clarify his proper place according to their standards, literary or moralistic or both. They help to define the difference between poetry scholarship and “love of poetry”. He was not and does not need to be made into a poet superhero, but through his poems and songs Burns brought wisdom and grace that made him a legend in his time and likely will continue on for many generations. He died at the age of 37 after many years of poor health and bad medical advice.

It is said that Burns was a genius, rightly so by dint of his profound insight to the human condition and his ability immediately to turn a rhyme. But what surpasses all “a’that and a’that” is that he was a wonderful human being.
I say this not as a scholar of Burns but as a friend I have come to know. For truth is in the heart as well as in the mind.

      

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

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

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad 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 ye up wi' ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they strech 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 mak her spew
Wi' perfect sconner,
Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro' bluidy 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 make it whissle;
An' legs, an' arms, an' heads will sned,
Like taps o' thrissle.

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!
Greetings and good luck to your honest,
cheerful face
Great chieftan of the Pudding Race
You rank above all other dishes coming from
The paunch, tripe or guts;
Your truly deserce a grace
As long as my arm.

 

On destroying the mouse's home with a plough, November 1785:

 

Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie,                                                   little, sleek, small beast
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!                                                             small breast
Thou need na start awa sae hasty                                                          not, away so
Wi bickering brattle!                                                                                    with hurrying scamper
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,                                                         would, loath, run
Wi' murdering pattle.                                                                                  paddle (board from the plough)

I'm truly sorry man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion                                                                        and
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth born companion
An' fellow mortal!

I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;                                                at times
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!                                            must
A daimen icker in a thrave                                                                        occasional ear of corn, sheaf
'S a sma' request;                                                                                      is, small
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,                                                                    what's left
An' never miss't.

Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!                                                              small house
It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!                                                         walls, winds
An' naething, now, to big a new ane,                                                     nothing, build, one
O' foggage green!                                                                                      coarse grass
An' bleak December's win's ensuin,
Baith snell an' keen!                                                                                  both, biting cold

Thou saw the fields laid bare an' waste,
An' weary winter comin fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro' thy cell.                                                                                          ploughshare

That wee bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,                                                 stubble
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!                                                     many
Now thou's turned out, for a' thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter's sleety dribble,                                                         without, a holding
An' cranreuch cauld.                                                                                   endure
                                                                                                                        hoar frost, cold
But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,                                                              not alone
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,                                                     often go awry
For promis'd joy!                                                                                         leave

Still thou are blest, compared wi' me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But och! I backward cast my e'e,                                                            Oh!, eye
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!

 

A Man's A Man
(This poem stands as a solid beacon still today but in the late 18th century when the ideal of individual worth was still birthing it was uniquely enobling, verile and joyful.)

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 silks, 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.

While Europe's eye is fix'd on mighty things,
The fate of Empires and the fall of Kings;
While quacks of State must each produce his plan,
And even children lisp the Rights of Man;
Amid this mighty fuss just let me mention,
The Rights of Woman merit some attention.

First, in the Sexes' intermix'd connection,
One sacred Right of Woman is, protection. -
The tender flower that lifts its head, elate,
Helpless, must fall before the blasts of Fate,
Sunk on the earth, defac'd its lovely form,
Unless your shelter ward th' impending storm.

Our second Right-but needless here is caution,
To keep that right inviolate's the fashion;
Each man of sense has it so full before him,
He'd die before he'd wrong it-'tis decorum. -
There was, indeed, in far less polish'd days,
A time, when rough rude man had naughty ways,
Would swagger, swear, get drunk, kick up a riot,
Nay even thus invade a Lady's quiet.

Now, thank our stars! those Gothic times are fled;
Now, well-bred men-and you are all well-bred-
Most justly think (and we are much the gainers)
Such conduct neither spirit, wit, nor manners.

For Right the third, our last, our best, our dearest,
That right to fluttering female hearts the nearest;
Which even the Rights of Kings, in low prostration,
Most humbly own-'tis dear, dear admiration!
In that blest sphere alone we live and move;
There taste that life of life-immortal love.
Smiles, glances, sighs, tears, fits, flirtations, airs;
'Gainst such an host what flinty savage dares,
When awful Beauty joins with all her charms-
Who is so rash as rise in rebel arms?

But truce with kings, and truce with constitutions,
With bloody armaments and revolutions;
Let Majesty your first attention summon,
Ah! ca ira! The Majesty Of Woman!

 

Scots, Wha Hae.
Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led,
Welcome to your gory bed
Or to victorie!

Now's the day, and now's the hour:
See the front o' battle lour,
See approach proud Edward's power -
Chains and slaverie!

Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha will 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 every foe!
Liberty 's in every blow!
Let us do or die.

(Burns was born in Ayrshire where William Wallace ("Braveheart" ) also lived.)

This is Burn's first love poem, written at age 15.


Once I lov'd a bonie lass,
Ay, and I love her still;
And whilst that virtue warms my breast,
I'll love my handsome Nell.

As bonie lasses I hae seen,
And mony full as braw;
But, for a modest gracefu' mein,
The like I never saw.

A bonie lass, I will confess,
Is pleasant to the e'e;
But, without some better qualities,
She's no a lass for me.

But Nelly's looks are blythe and sweet,
And what is best of a',
Her reputation is complete,
And fair without a flaw.

She dresses aye sae clean and neat,
Both decent and genteel;
And then there's something in her gait
Gars ony dress look weel.

A gaudy dress and gentle air
May slightly touch the heart;
But it's innocence and modesty
That polishes the dart.

'Tis this in Nelly pleases me,
'Tis this enchants my soul;
For absolutely in my breast
She reigns without control.

Jean
(Jean Armour was wife to Burns and mother of his nine of his children. Each of Burns' many lovers in turn received his full devotion. "He dearly loved the lasses,O")

Of a' the airts the wind can blaw,
I dearly like the west,
For there the bonnie lassie lives,
The lassie I lo'e best:
There wild woods grow, and rivers row,
And monie a hill between;
But day and night may fancy's flight
Is ever wi' my Jean.
I see her in the dewy flowers,
I see her sweet and fair:
I hear her in the tunefu' birds,
I hear her charm the air:
There's not a bonnie flower that springs
By fountain, shaw, or green;
There's not a bonnie bird that sings,
But minds me o' my Jean.

 

A rose-bud, by my early walk
Adown a corn-enclosèd bawk,
Sae gently bent its thorny stalk,
All on a dewy morning.
Ere twice the shades o' dawn are fled,
In a' its crimson glory spread,
And drooping rich the dewy head,
It scents the early morning.

Within the bush her covert nest
A little linnet fondly prest;
The dew sat chilly on her breast,
Sae early in the morning.
She soon shall see her tender brood,
The pride, the pleasure o' the wood,
Amang the fresh green leaves bedew'd,
Awauk the early morning.

So thou, dear bird, young Jeany fair,
On trembling string or vocal air,
Shall sweetly pay the tender care
That tents thy early morning!
So thou, sweet rose-bud, young and gay,
Shalt beauteous blaze upon the day,
And bless the parent's evening ray
That watch'd thy early morning!

Meaning of unusual words:
bawk=footpath
awauk=awake
tents=guards

 

(This is probably Burns' most famous love poem,and perhaps the most beautiful love poem ever written; but see also
"Ae Fond Kiss.")

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!

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry:

Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun;
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only Luve,
And fare thee weel a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho' it were ten thousand mile.

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever!
Ae fareweel, alas, for ever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee.
Who shall say that fortune grieves him
While the star of hope she leaves him?
Me, nae cheerfu' twinkle lights me,
Dark despair around benights me.

I'll ne'er blame my partial fancy,
Naething could resist my Nancy;
But to see her, was to love her;
Love but her, and love for ever.
Had we never loved sae kindly,
Had we never loved sae blindly,
Never met - or never parted,
We had ne'er been broken-hearted.

Fare thee weel, thou first and fairest!
Fare thee weel, thou best and dearest!
Thine be ilka joy and treasure,
Peace, enjoyment, love, and pleasure.
Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;
Ae fareweel, alas, for ever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee.


         

Ye flowery banks o' bonnie Doon,
How can ye blume sae fair!
How can ye chant, ye little birds,
And I sae fu' o' care!
Thou'll break my heart, thou bonnie bird
That sings upon the bough;
Thou minds me o' the happy days
When my fause Luve was true.
Thou'll break my heart, thou bonnie bird
That sings beside thy mate;
For sae I sat, and sae I sang,
And wist na o' my fate.
Aft hae I roved by bonnie Doon
To see the woodbine twine,
And ilka bird sang o' its love;
And sae did I o' mine.
Wi' lightsome heart I pu'd a rose,
Frae aff its thorny tree;
And my fause luver staw the rose,
But left the thorn wi' me.

Green grow the rashes, O;
Green grow the rashes, O;
The sweetest hours that e'er I spend,
Are spent among the lasses, O.

There's nought but care on ev'ry han',
In every hour that passes, O:
What signifies the life o' man,
An' 'twere na for the lasses, O.

The war'ly race may riches chase,
An' riches still may fly them, O;
An' tho' at last they catch them fast,
Their hearts can ne'er enjoy them, O.

But gie me a cannie hour at e'en,
My arms about my dearie, O,
An' war'ly cares an' war'ly men
May a' gae tapsalteerie, O!

For you sae douce, ye sneer at this;
Ye're nought but senseless asses, O;
The wisest man the warl' e'er saw,
He dearly lov'd the lasses, O.

Auld Nature swears, the lovely dears
Her noblest work she classes, O:
Her prentice han' she try'd on man,
An' then she made the lasses, O.

O, Jenny's a' weet, poor body,
Jenny's seldom dry:
She draigl't a' her petticoatie,
Comin thro' the rye!

Comin thro' the rye, poor body,
Comin thro' the rye,
She draigl't a' her petticoatie,
Comin thro' the rye!

Gin a body meet a body
Comin thro' the rye,
Gin a body kiss a body,
Need a body cry?

Gin a body meet a body
Comin thro' the glen,
Gin a body kiss a body,
Need the warl' ken?

Gin a body meet a body
Comin thro' the grain;
Gin a body kiss a body,
The thing's a body's ain.

 

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days o’ lang syne!

Chorus:
For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne!

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pu’d the gowans fine,
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary foot
Sin’ auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl’t in the burn
Frae morning sun till dine,
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
Sin’ auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere,
And gie’s a hand o’ thine,
And we’ll tak a right guid willie-waught
For auld lang syne!

And surely ye’ll be your pint’ stoup,
And surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne!

English Translation

Old Long Gone....

Should old acquaintances be forgotten,
And never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintances be forgotten,
And days of long ago !

Chorus:
For old long ago, my dear
For old long ago,
We will take a cup of kindness yet
For old long ago.

We two have run about the hillsides
And pulled the daisies fine,
But we have wandered many a weary foot
For old long ago.

We two have paddled (waded) in the stream
From noon until dinner time,
But seas between us broad have roared
Since old long ago.

And there is a hand, my trusty friend,
And give us a hand of yours,
And we will take a goodwill draught (of ale)
For old long ago!

And surely you will pay for your pint,
And surely I will pay for mine!
And we will take a cup of kindness yet
For old long ago!

Burns was made for joy. Yet much of his working life was a misery that ravaged his body and contributed to his early death.

Oppress'd with grief, oppress'd with care,
A burden more than I can bear,
I set me down and sigh:
O life! thou art a galling load,
Along a rough, a weary road,
To wretches such as I!
Dim-backward as I cast my view,
What sick'ning scenes appear!
What sorrows yet may pierce me thro'
Too justly I may fear!
Still caring, despairing,
Must be my bitter doom;
My woes here shall close ne'er
But with the closing tomb!

Happy, ye sons of busy life,
Who, equal to the bustling strife,
No other view regard!
Ev'n when the wished end's deny'd,
Yet while the busy means are ply'd,
They bring their own reward:
Whilst I, a hope-abandon'd wight,
Unfitted with an aim,
Meet ev'ry sad returning night
And joyless morn the same;
You, bustling, and justling,
Forget each grief and pain;
I, listless, yet restless,
Find every prospect vain.

 

 


 

 

 



Biographical Info on Wikipedia

Familiar Lines of Scotland's Bard

 

From scenes like these old Scotia's grandeur springs;
That makes her loved at home, revered abroad:
Princes and lords are but the breath of kings,
"An honest man's the noblest work of God."

      The Cotter's Saturday Night

 

Oh my luve's like a red red rose
That's newly sprung in June;
Oh, my luve's like the melodie
That's sweetly played in tune.

                       A Red Red Rose

 

"She is a winsome wee thing,
She is a handsome wee thing,
She is a bonny wee thing,
This sweet wee wife o' mine".

 My Wife's a Winsome Wee Thing

 

Oh wad some power the giftie gie us
     To see oursel's as others see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us,
     And foolish notion.

                         To a Louse

 

Man's inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!

           Man Was Made to Mourn


Ennergi: the driving Force that powers the world.