Friday, 21 January 2011

Burns Notice

It’s Burns Night soon, the 25th to be precise, and this is a thing worthy of celebrating. Oh avoid the neeps and tatties by all means, especially the neeps in my humble opinion, and no one’s forcing you to eat haggis, although these days I think it’s rather good, especially the vegetarian version. Now I come to think of it, is there another poet who’s reputation has suffered from the vague belief that the reader has to eat certain foodstuffs before s/he can be appreciated? Not that I’m aware of, though it may be de riguer in certain circles to turn on the gas oven before reading Sylvia Plath for all I know.

No, forget all the toast to the haggis and piping the damn thing in nonsense, unless that’s the kind of thing you go in for in which case indulge yourself by all means, but instead consider the poetry itself.

All right, that can be a bit of a reach for those not up on lallands, aka the lowland Scots dialect, in which a number of the poems are written but it should not be too much of a problem for those used to picking their way through, say, T S Eliot’s The Wasteland. It’s really just a question of getting your ear in and not being shy to use a glossary if one is provided.

One of the more famous Burns’ poems is commonly known as Scots Wha Hae, which actually comes out in standard English as ‘Scots who have’ which is a compelling reason why it should not be Scotland’s national anthem. God Save the Queen may be a dreary anthem to have but at least it’s title doesn’t leave the listener hanging in suspense. Not that I’m a fan of God Save The Queen, it’s one of the duller anthems, especially when compared with The Marseillaise which is great fun. For the record, my vote’s with Jerusalem.

No, let us celebrate Burns because in the month that has seen Bob Diamond of Barclays tell Parliament that he believes that the banks no longer need to show remorse while the cabinet is made up almost exclusively of millionaires, this following poem is rather apposite:

A Man’s A Man For A’ That

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 hoddin grey, an' a that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
A Man's a Man for a' that:
For a' that, and 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 coof 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 abon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna 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 brothers be for a' that.

And here’s the Corries doing a rather fine version of it:


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  2. Mabel A. Clifford21 January 2011 at 19:33

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