To A Louse
Robert Burns (25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796), packed a lot into his short life – national hero, local scourge; devoted family man, restless philanderer; successful author, penniless farmer and for a short time even a tax collector.
Above all though he was one of the worlds greatest poets and lyricists, creating a body of work that has inspired generations of writers for over 200 hundred years.
One of the first of the Romantic poets, Burns led the way for Byron, Shelley, Keats et al. Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ and JD Salinger’s ‘Catcher in the Rye’ both take inspiration from Burns’ work. He was adopted as the ‘People’s Poet’ in 1920’s revolutionary Russia. And, just a couple of years ago Bob Dylan cited A Red, Red Rose, as the lyric that had the biggest effect on his life.
Too often dismissed as being just about New Year and Haggis, Burns deserves greater respect and a wider reading. For those prepared to look there is much in his work to be inspired by today.
Here are a couple of favourites of mine (and Bob’s)….
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.
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.
Tam o’ Shanter
[After a night in the pub, as Tam makes his way home, he hears strange noises coming from Alloway’s old haunted church and goes to see what’s going on…]
And, wow! Tam saw an unco sight!
Warlocks and witches in a dance:
Nae cotillon, brent new frae France,
But hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels,
Put life and mettle in their heels.
A winnock-bunker in the east,
There sat auld Nick, in shape o’ beast;
A towzie tyke, black, grim, and large,
To gie them music was his charge:
He screw’d the pipes and gart them skirl,
Till roof and rafters a’ did dirl. –
Coffins stood round, like open presses,
That shaw’d the Dead in their last dresses;
And (by some devilish cantraip sleight)
Each in its cauld hand held a light.
By which heroic Tam was able
To note upon the haly table,
A murderer’s banes, in gibbet-airns;
Twa span-lang, wee, unchristened bairns;
A thief, new-cutted frae a rape,
Wi’ his last gasp his gab did gape;
Five tomahawks, wi’ blude red-rusted:
Five scimitars, wi’ murder crusted;
A garter which a babe had strangled:
A knife, a father’s throat had mangled.
Whom his ain son of life bereft,
The grey-hairs yet stack to the heft;
Wi’ mair of horrible and awfu’,
Which even to name wad be unlawfu’.
Three lawyers tongues, turned inside oot,
Wi’ lies, seamed like a beggars clout,
Three priests hearts, rotten, black as muck,
Lay stinkin, vile in every neuk.
As Tammie glowr’d, amaz’d, and curious,
The mirth and fun grew fast and furious;
The Piper loud and louder blew,
The dancers quick and quicker flew,
They reel’d, they set, they cross’d, they cleekit,
Till ilka carlin swat and reekit,
And coost her duddies to the wark,
And linkit at it in her sark!
Now tam, O Tam, ……
You can read and hear the whole thing here, my favourite reading is by Tom Fleming.