Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Happy Burns' Night!

Another January, another Burns’ Night. I make no secret of my liking for this particular poet even though I have a distaste for the patina of professional Scottishness that has grown up around him. But perhaps that’s just me being a killjoy.

Until recently I had believed that Robert Burns had made the worst deal in publishing history when he sold the copyright to his Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect for an outright fee rather than take a commission. But then, I heard about the unfortunate Mervyn Peake, artist and Gormenghast author, who apparently designed the logo for Pan Books. He was offered an one-off fee or a commission every time a Pan book was sold. Acting according to advice from Graham Greene who turned out to be better at overweening Catholic guilt than financial forethought, he accepted the former and so lost a fortune. Ah me, but as the bard of Alloway himself allowed: ‘The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley’

So, to kick off our Burns’ Night festivities, here’s a clerihew by GK Chesterton (I think):

When reading Robert Burns

What a lot one learns.

He said a king can make a belted knight.

And he was right!

And now here’s Eva Cassidy giving us My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose:

And finally, a famous one from the man himself. Enjoy:

To A Mouse

Wee, sleekit, cowrin, 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,

What 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 dreaer!

An' forward, tho' I canna see,

I guess an' fear!

Robert Burns

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