Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Robert Burns (1759 - 1796)

Robert Burness was born in 1759, in Alloway, Scotland. He was the eldest of seven children and worked with his father on the family (tenant) farm. He was a well educated man and wrote songs and poems and played the fiddler. His main income came from the farm which he took over when his father died in 1784. In 1786 Burns published "Poems: Chiefly in Scottish Dialect", which contained literary works for the common man and subsequent volumes were expanded with new editions. His fame meant he enjoyed the company of the Edinburgh elite and intellectuals of Scottish Society but always felt patronized. Never treated as an equal and always the country bumpkin, he was referred to as ''the Ploughman Poet". He was a libertine and openly permissive, indulging himself in the pleasures of the flesh, and become quite lady’s man. In his writings he was a political radical, feverent nationalist, and outspoken critic of Scottish Calvinism. This did not endear him to the Church of Scotland and he made him many powerful enemies. In Robert’s works he railed against rogues in high places, championed the poor and oppressed, and wrote stunningly precocious warnings about the dangers of abusing the environment. He also wrote with simmering sexuality, penning seductively romantic love songs, winking flirtations, and bawdy ballads. The Ploughman’s Poets was both man of letters, and man of the people but at the height of his fame he turned his back on it all and returned to the land. This was partly driven by his love of Jean Armour; lack of money, and his preference for the simple life of rural Scotland. He returned to the farm but could not settle and became an excise man (customs agent). On his return to rural life he concentrated on collecting and writing songs. He was a dedicated conservationalist and aimed to preserve the traditional music he loved. As a song writer he wrote his lyrics to match traditional Scottish melodies. By setting most of his songs to Scottish fiddle tunes with complex dance rhythms: jigs, reels, strathspeys, and hornpipes, he hoped to use his celebrity to preserve the traditions of Scottish melody. In 1785 Robert was a guest at a lawyer’s dinner in Kilmarnock. The meet was euphemistically known as a haggis dinner, because haggis was the main meal. Haggis was cheap and wholesome being made from offal and oatmeal. Burns was asked to say grace and instead choose to address the haggis. The recitation went done well and was later published in a newspaper. This added to Robert Burns’ popularity as poet of the people. After his death many lamented his passing and a group of his friends met to have dinner to commemorate “The Bard.” The venue was in Alloway and the fayre was haggis. Burns had a great sense of humour and would have appreciated the Toast to the Haggis being ceremoniously recited. The friends decided to make the event an annual one and held it on January 25th (Burns birthday). News spread and in 1801 the world’s first Burns Club was founded in Greenock and now they are found all over the world. Burns Night is the pinnacle social event, where tribute to the life and works and rebellious spirit of Robert Burns is celebrated. Whether formal or informal the supper includes ‘Address to the Haggis,’ ‘The Immortal Memory” (reflection on the life of the Bard), a ‘Toast to the Lassies’ and a reply from the ‘Lassies’. Interspaced with songs and poems washed down with copious supplies of whisky and haggis.

Ae Fond Kiss

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever!
Ae farewell, and then forever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee.
Who shall say that Fortune grieves him,
While the star of hope she leaves him?
Me, nae cheerfu' twinkle lights me,
Dark despair around benights me.

I'll ne'er blame my partial fancy:
Naething could resist my Nancy!
But to see her was to love her,
Love but her, and love for ever.

Had we never lov'd sae kindly,
Had we never lov'd sae blindly,
Never met - or never parted --
We had ne'er been broken-hearted.

Fare-thee-weel, thou first and fairest!
Fare-thee-weel, thou best and dearest!
Thine be ilka joy and treasure,
Peace, Enjoyment, Love and Pleasure!

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever!
Ae farewell, alas, for ever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee.

Robert wrote or popularized hundreds of songs, including ''Auld Lang Syne." For years these songs belonged in the repertoire of prim sopranos and Tartan-kilted tenors but now musicians and Scottish cultural activists have contemporized the Bard works, suffice Robert Burns has never been more popular than he is now . Robert Burns died in 1796, aged 37.

Worth a list:
Dougie MacLean
Scot’s Wha Hae (1996)
Eddi Reader
Chariie is my darling (2003)
Fairground Attraction (Eddi Reader)
Aye fond kiss (1990 )
Bob Hay & the Jolly Beggars
Green Grow the Rashes, O (2004)
Old Blind Dogs
A Man's A Man For A' That (2004)

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