Robert Burns, beloved Scots poet, was born 250 years ago today.
Burns wrote the poems “Tam O’Shanter,” “Auld Lang Syne” — yes, set to music it’s now a New Year’s Eve favorite — and a lot of other grand old poems of ancient Scotland. A bit like The Brothers Grimm and their Children’s and Household Tales, or Carl Sandburg and The American Songbag, Burns spent as much time gathering old native poems and music as he did writing new ones. His collection The Scots Musical Museum was a smash in Edinburgh in 1787.
Burns was no softie and he brought the gorse as well as the heather. Here’s a snippet from “Tam O’Shanter” (and Charlie Daniels fans may notice a “Devil Went Down to Georgia” touch, this time with Old Scratch on the bagpipes):
There sat auld Nick, in shape o’ beast;
A towzie tyke, black, grim and large,
To gie them music was his charge:
He screw’d the pipes and gart them skirl,
Till roof and rafters a’ did dirl.
On the minus side, Burns’s crazy dialect can be nearly impossible to grasp these days. Later from that same poem:
The reel’d, they set, they cross’d, they cleekit,
Till ilka carlin swat and reekit,
And coost her duddies to the wark,
And linkit at it in her sark!
“Coost her duddies to the wark?”
Well, god bless you anyway, Mr. Burns, wherever you are. And happy birthday.