In the week that we celebrate the birth of Scotland’s most famous poet, the words of “Caledonia – A Ballad” have often been at the front of my mind.
“Thus bold, independent, unconquered and free,
her bright course of glory for ever shall run,
For brave Caledonia immortal must be.”
Many of his poems sum up the beauty and the character of Scotland but to me, this one sums up what is yet to come as well as lament what has been lost; respect the past but welcome the potential of the future.
There were many times in the run up to the Referendum when both camps laid claim that Burns would have been a champion of their cause. Quote and counter-quote were presented but it was clearly apparent from his works that Burns would have come down on the side of the Yessers – to my mind anyhow! The melancholy prose of “Such a Parcel of rogues in a nation” seems to show Burns’ despair at the loss of identity forced by the Act of Union
“Fareweel to a’ our Scottish fame, Fareweel our ancient glory.
Fareweel ev’n to the Scottish name, Sae famed in martial story.”
whilst the unofficial National anthem “Scots wha hae” needs no explanation. ‘A man’s a man for a’ that” tells of Burns belief in equality
“Then let us pray that come it may
As come it will, for a’ that
That sense and worth, o’er a’ the earth May bear the gree, for a’ that.”
and “The Tree of Liberty” is an inspiring wish for peace.
“Like brethren in a common cause We’d on each other smile, man.
And equal rights and equal laws
Wad gladden every isle, man.”
The work of Burns that resonates the strongest with me however is the satirical “Address to Beelzebub” where he decries the behaviour of the lords and the lairds who prevented Highlanders emigrating to Canada when they had the opportunity of a new life before forcibly removing them to a life of destitution and horror in the Highland Clearances years later.
“….what right hae they
To meat, or sleep, or light o’ day
Far less to riches, pow’r or freedom
But what your Lordships please to gie them.”
My children have been taught about Burns since their playgroup days and in their primary school, P5 do “Scotland” as their topic during this term. Part of their learning experience is to visit a local playgroup to do a Burns Turn and also to host the school Burns Lunch. The children work very hard on this and my middle child is looking forward to reciting the Selkirk Grace; her brother still remembers theToast to the Haggis that he had to learn for it last year and is keen to help his sister memorise her lines. The enjoyment that the children get from this whilst discovering their heritage and engaging in poetry that will stay with them forever, is wonderful to see. We visited Alloway a few years ago and the memories of visiting Burns landmarks and the recently renovated museum certainly sustains their interest
Like millions of other people the world over, members of our branch will be attending a Burns Supper this weekend. Our departing constituency MSP, Rob Gibson, will provide the Toast to the Lassies with his anticipated successor, Gail Ross, providing the Reply. A young Masters graduate from the UHI with an unsurpassed knowledge of renewables, Magnus Davidson, will give the Toast to Scotland and branch stalwart, John Bogle (cousin of Green Fields of France composer, Eric) will do a turn along with Mod Gold Medallist, Raymond Bremner. My expected highlight of the evening will be listening to the Immortal Memory from celebrated poet and playwright, George Gunn. We might be few in number population wise but when it comes to talent, the Far North can more than hold its own. And in the words of the Bard himself,
“Ye Pow’rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o ‘fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!”