To Robert Burns, On the Occasion of His Birthday

January 25 was the birthday of the Bard of Ayrshire, Robert Burns.  Most of us know him, of course, for “Auld Lang Syne,” and that would give him fame if nothing else.  But he was far more than that, writing hundreds of poems and lyrics during his life, collected and loved to this day.  It wasn’t an incredibly lucrative profession, though, being a poet, just like today, and Burns just managed to stay ahead of the debt collector when he died in 1796, leaving his family hard on the rocks.  But such was his renown even in his time that a public subscription was raised and given to his wife, Jean Armour, for the support of her and their children.

Jean was an amazingly long-suffering woman.  There is no doubt that Burns loved her deeply; and they had nine children together, only three of whom survived.  His eye was ever a-rovin’, though, and he had many an affair.  But it seems that Jean was his inspiration for many of his poems and lyrics, such as:

O my Luve’s like a red, red rose,
That’s newly sprung in June:
O my Luve’s like the melodie,
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare-thee-weel, my only Luve!
And fare-thee-weel, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ ’twere ten thousand mile!

My friend Conan Bankersbox has a preference for “A Man’s a Man for A’ That,” which is not a celebration of being a man (grunt, grunt), but of the Common Man, the average person who struggles along and is all the more glorious than kings or bishops because of his real worth:

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.

Incidentally, if I’ve whetted your appetite for a bit o’ Burns, and you have an iPhone, you can get an app with over 500 of his poems, a thumbnail biography, and even how to throw a great Burns Supper.  The tagline for it on one Burns Web site:  “An App’s an App for A’ That.”

Photographed at Inis Caiseal region.

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