Friday, January 25, 2008

The Enduring Appeal of Robert Burns (on the Occasion of his 249th Birthday)

In a marvellous essay on Robert Burns in last week's Guardian, Andrew O'Hagan wrote:

… for all the epic Romanticism of Burns's life, his humanity and poverty, his passion and his genius, it is the sheer melodic truthfulness of the poetry that carries through the years. He feels and sounds like one of us, a modern person skidding constantly along the borders of the real and the imagined.

I couldn't have put it so well myself, but I whole-heartedly agree. To celebrate Robert Burns's birthday, which is today, I'm reproducing two of my favourite Burns poems below:

To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough

Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' murd'ring pattle!

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

I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
'S a sma' request;
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,
An' never miss't!

Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin!
It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!
An' naething, now, to big a new ane,
O' foggage green!
An' bleak December's winds ensuin,
Baith snell an' keen!

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.

That wee bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
Now thou's turn'd out, for a' thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter's sleety dribble,
An' cranreuch cauld!

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
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,
For promis'd joy!

Still thou art blest, compar'd wi' me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e'e.
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!

Lines Written on a Banknote

Wae worth thy power, thou cursed leaf!
Fell source o' a' my woe and grief!
For lack o' thee I've lost my lass!
For lack o' thee I scrimp my glass!
I see the children of affliction
Unaided, through thy curst restriction:
I've seen the oppressor's cruel smile
Amid his hapless victim's spoil;
And for thy potence vainly wished,
To crush the villain in the dust:
For lack o' thee, I leave this much-lov'd shore,
Never, perhaps, to greet old Scotland more.

For more poems and songs by Robert Burns, visit this online archive which features a handy built-in glossary to assist the reader in deciphering the Scots words.

And don't forget to raise a glass to the Scottish bard tonight in honour of his birthday, whether your taste runs to "guid auld Scotch drink" or something less potent.

1 comment:

Razovsky said...

He looks good for 249.