Speech for Robert Burns Dinner, 2012Posted by Kenneth McIntosh on February 28, 2012, 8:50 am
The Great Poet Robert Burns
Since people around the world are celebrating Robert Burns’ birthday at this time, I thought I would post my brief talk at Flagstaff’s Burns Dinner.
One mark of true genius is breadth of intellect—from Leonardo Da Vinci to Steve Jobs, geniuses do many things well. And Robert Burns produced immortal works that covered wide ground. He wrote four-line ditties and lengthy ballads. He collected traditional poems both highland and lowland. He commented on matters political and economical, and covered ground from current events to theology. He popped the balloons of the pompous aristocracy. He angered the mighty and lifted up the common people. Burns could be brutally honest, satirical and acerbic. And yet…he also delighted in romance and romanticism.
Romance and Romanticism…those are my topics in this brief address.
When I say “romance” I mean…amor, eros…Love, baby! As one of his biographers put it, “Burns was something of a ladies’ man, and wrote many poems inspired by the women he was romancing.”
Bob Dylan says Burns’ poetry inspires him.
Alongside the poems Auld Lang Syne and Tam O’ Shanter; Red Red Rose is one of his most famous works. And 200 years down the road it is still influential. In 2008 Bob Dylan named the most influential verse in his life—and it was Burns’ poem, Red, Red Rose.
As I read this, try to get past the familiarity in order to let the simplicity and…well…the sheer romantic nature of these words …touch you.
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 bonie 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!
O 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!
In addition to his penchant for romance, Burns is important for his influence on the school of poetry known as Romanticism. He led the way for Blake, Coleridge and Worsdworth—artists who helped shape the consciousness of our modern world.
Romantic poets emphasize the role of heroic individuals. They also highlight the power of common people to shape history—encouraging political and artistic rebels. From the French Revolution to the Arab Spring, these forces continue to re-make our world. And romantic poets utilize the power of myths and legends to encourage a more ideal future.
One reason we’re here tonight (let us be very honest) is because many of us have Celtic backgrounds, and well, people today think…Celtic stuff is really cool! I mean, really—Braveheart, bagpipes, men in kilts, the Loch Ness Monster—Single Malt Whiskey—you name it, Scots rule!
But it wasn’t always that way. Three hundred years ago, most folks living south of Inverness regarded anything Highland—kilts, tartans, bagpipes— as uncouth, embarrassing. Highlanders were embarrassed to speak Gaelic, while lowlanders were embarrassed of their own Scots tongue.
Robert Burns – along with Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson—came along at a time when lowland capitalists in league with traitorous highland lairds were busy dismantling and disparaging Scotland’s sense of pride and patriotism. Scots language and Scots culture were disappearing as fast as highland crofts and the Dodo bird. But the romantic poems of Rabbie Burns helped renew a zeal for Scottish culture. Rabbie took the heritage of his ancestors and breathed glorious new life into those traditions! He made it popular to be Scots again.
A prime example of Burns’ Romanticism is the poem Scots Wa Hae. It is based on the speech that Robert the Bruce gave before his army defeated the English forces at Bannockburn. Rabbie wrote the poem to inspire the artistic and political revolutionaries of his own time. And it rallied the pride of Scots everywhere.
Robert the Bruce inspired the poem Scots Wha Hae.
In the Scots tongue, “Scots Wha Hae” means “Scots who have” (just remember as you listen, ‘wha’ is ‘who.’) And also remember at the end: “Dee” is “Die.”
Again, this poem invokes the past—the memory of Scots who have fought and died for their culture in the battles of history—in order to invoke pride, patriotism, and courage for the future.
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 dee!
If that doesn’t light a fire in your Scots blood…I can’t imagine what will!
Did any blog readers attend a Burns Dinner this year? What Burns poems do you especially enjoy?
Post a Comment
CommentsTo contribute comments to this article, you must first log in.