Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Radical Robbie Burns, Peoples Poet

A'hae toast ya laddie with a wee dram.
It is Robbie Burns Day around the world.

A day to celebrate the common man, the common poet, of the common people; Robbie Burns. It's a day where we all become Scot's for a moment, drinking a wee dram of the namesake liquor in a toast to that countries greatest lover, poet and radical. Around the world there are Robbie Burns dinners and celebrations.

This unique popularity of Burns as the voice of the common people is not shared by any other poet. Other poets of the common people and their struggles, are not celebrated internationally by men and women of all nations as one of their own. As great a voice for their people as they may be.

The great Ukrainian poet
Taras Shevchenko is known as the Robbie Burns of the Ukraine. Some would say this is idle boasting but compare this final verse from Shevchenko's poetic eulogy, Zapovit (My Testament) with the last lines of Burns immortal; Scots Whae Hae, they both ring with eternal truth, that stirs the heart and brings a lump to the throat. A clarion call to revolution, and the fight for social justice for all.

Oh bury me, then rise ye up
And break your heavy chains
And water with the tyrants' blood
The freedom you have gained
And in the great new family,
The family of the free
With softly spoken, kindly word
Remember also me

Scots Whae Hae
Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty's in every blow!
Let us do, or die!

Shevchenko's "ZAPOVIT," or "TESTAMENT," written in 1845, is considered sacred by Ukrainians around the world as it calls on Ukrainiansto arise and break the chains of oppression. In fact, when that work is sung, much like a hymn or national anthem, you will notice that the public stands in respect to the author and his message. "

Non Ukrainian scholars have noted the similarities between the two poets.
W.K Matthews* speaks of Shevchenko's affinity with Ukrainian folk poetry, proving at the same time through his analysis of Shevchenko's versification technique that the poet was not "a simple imitator of folk-songs." In his comparison of Shevchenko with Burns, the author stresses both similarities and differences between the two poets. Matthews feels that "the transition from Romanticism to Realism" may "be followed as plainly in Shevchenkospainting as in his literary work" and that Shevchenko's "patriotism plays a highly important part in his poetry and has been rightly chosen by nationally-minded Ukrainians for special emphasis, just as the rather less important social criticism in his work has been emphasized by those intent on proving his revolutionary affiliations."

*(professor of Russian at the University of London and head of the Department of Language and Literature at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, was invited by the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain to deliver an address on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of Shevchenko's death. The address was given at St. Pancras Hall, London, on 11 March 1951)

Like Burns, Shevchenko is accepted as a nationalist, but his revolutionary beliefs and convictions are dismissed as myth making by those on the left.
Shevchenko's revolutionary ardor cannot be dismissed by scholars writing during the hey day of the Cold War, speaking to a largely nationalist and reactionary Ukrainian community in exile.

"For a dialect poet, Burns has a wide appeal. Gerry Carruthers of Glasgow University points out that he was unusual in being appreciated by both sides in the cold war: Russians regarded him as a socialist icon, while Americans liked his republicanism."

Andrew Noble in the Scottish Left Review argues that more than 200 years of depoliticisation have presented Robert Burns, a radical political poet, as a writer of the safe and pastoral. As we will see below new revelations about Burns revolutionary convictions have been discovered.

Freedom was the cry for Wallace as it was for Burns and it was for Shevchenko, and Ivan Franko and all the great voices of the people and revolution, their appeal is not merely national but internationalist and a rallying cry against oppression everywhere. Which is the international appeal of the Burns dinners and celebrations.

Burns the freethinker speaking out against Calvinist religious hypocrisy against the tyranny of Church and State. For the love of women and their liberation. For the fight and victory of those that have
naught and shall be all. And for a day we can all be Scots, and celebrate their revolutionary history against the English Crown. Burns celebrates Wallace and the Bruce, and all the great Scots battles against the English Crown and their own comprador ruling class.

Ukrainians too share in the Scots sense of homeland and peasant rebellion, we celebrate the struggles of Cossack heros
Ivan Mazepa, Stenka Razin , and Nestor Makhno, against The Tsars, The Poles, the Tartars and the White Russians

Ukrainians outside of the Ukraine, were subject to a hundred year Diaspora. And so cultural survival was deeply imbued in Ukrainian diaspora politics, left and right. Ukrainian's who came to this country were treated with racist disdain by the British Canadian ruling classes, and may were deported from 1918-1930 for being revolutionaries.

The English ruling classes have always seen the Welsh, Irish and Scots as being their subjects, part of their Imperial domain the so called United Kingdom. And like all imperial states, they have played off them against each other. It is always a good reminder to those whom the English have oppressed to remind them that they have more in common with the colonized then their colonial masters.

And that despite bans on learning Gallic it thrived in Canada like Ukrainian did, the Scots and Ukrainians defending their cultural heritage against the culture of the ruling class. The oppressed of all lands hold their culture as a sacred trust in the face of imperalism.

It was the post-folk music revival that began in the late sixties that moved out of Traditional folk music into an understanding of World Music, beginning in their own backyard with the Celtic revival. It corresponded to the revival working class folk music by Ewan McColl and with such hits as Steeleye Span's, Hard Times in Old England.

Behind much of the Celtic revival were Ukrainians, always ready to subvert culture to undermine imperialism especially English imperialism. "1970-1980 Allan Stivell, An Triskell, Tri Yann, Gilles Servat and other musical groups were at the origins of the cultural rebirth of Brittany.Allan Stivell's producer was Ukrainian. And Stivell's work was the real source of much of the Celtic Revival which has grown with the world music movement.

Revolutionary poetry, the use of vernacular poetry or parables, arises when the Imperial states of the late medieval period dominate the countryside. The language of the colonized is rich in feminine vowels, rhythms and rhymes. The Imperialist languages are guttural and full of consonants, the masculine voice of command and authority, of State and place.

Poets like Shevchenko and Burns celebrated their cultures in the language and retelling of the stories of the oppressed in effect the feminine vowels and the bardic voice. In the vernacular of the colonized, whose language was always viewed as the authentic voice of a culture. Imperialism in its urge to unify all under the double eagle of the aristocracy, in its urge to create one unified autocratic state, begins by banning the language, the poetry, the expression of the common people. English Imperialism did it to the Scots, Irish and Welsh, Polish and Russian Imperialism did the same to the Ukrainians.

So lets join in the greatest secular holiday of the year, and toast not just to Burns, but to the brotherhood/sisterhood he advocated for. Auld Lang Sang.

Read on....

Robert, son of William Burns, a Scotch farmer, was born near the town of Ayr, January 25, 1759. His father, though very poor, gave him a solid English education; and the boy read eagerly all books he could come at. But the life was hard, and at the age of 15 Burns was working as his father's head labourer. The father died in 1784, brought to great straits through the failure of a lawsuit. Burns, with his brother Gilbert, struggled on bravely, but with poor success. He was then in the first glow of his passion for Jean Armour, whom he finally married, and but for her parents' opposition would have married earlier. During the next two years many of his best poems were written, as the Cottar's Saturday Night, Holy Willie's Prayer, Address to the Deil, The Mouse, The Daisy, and others. In 1786, having published some of these to gain passage-money for the West Indies, an invitation to Edinburgh, then containing the most brilliant intellectual society in Britain, made him famous. He gained, however, nothing but the rather meagre appointment of exciseman, with which he settled in Dumfries. Like other brave spirits of his time, he was accused of sympathy with the French Revolution. It is the fact that in the spring of 1792, Britain being still at peace with France, he sent to the Legislative Assembly two guns that had passed into his hands from a captured smuggler. And two of his noblest lyrics, Scots wha hae, and A man's a man for a' that, written 1792-5, show that the fiery heat of the great crisis had reached him. His poetry was the outcome of his nature. His scathing satire of Calvanistic hypocrisy, the wild humour of Tam o' Shanter, the burning passion of his love-songs, will live as long as the language endures. Burns died at Dumfries, 21st July 1796.

Humanist, humourist and patriot --By 1801, a group of Ayrshire men were already honouring their friend at an annual dinner. This year, on the 239th anniversary of his birth, thousands of men and women will toast the immortal memory and drain a glass or two. When they do, they'll be furthering a cause that was near and dear to his heart. He held inebriation in high regard as he remarked: "Whiskey and freedom gang thegither". Imbibing a wee dram would have enhanced many of the things he loved best: sociability, earnest argument, music, dancing and, of course, the lassies! These shameless flirtations were so successful that he and his long-suffering wife raised at least three of his illegitimate children in the family home. He may have scandalized polite society, but despite, or perhaps because of, that, he had a phenomenal way of raising people's spirits and making them glad. He emphasized decency in a world that barely knew it, and fostered a sense of dignity and self worth in his all but broken people.

Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty's in every blow!
Let us do, or die!
Burns on Robert the Bruce, relating to the song Robert Bruce's Address to His Troops at Bannockburn (Scots Whae Hae)

William Wallace & Robert Burns
This was a talk given to the Society of William Wallace at Elderslie Village Hall on Tuesday 19th February 2002 by David Brown
Wallace inspired the Scots of his day to follow his leadership. His memory has lived on and has motivated many generations of Scots, both before and after Robert Burns. Burns’ poetic genius captures the spirit of Wallace and will ensure that both of them will be remembered as Scots Patriots for many generations to come.

Robert Burns - An advocate for Scottish Independence
Various modern established media have tried to belittle Scotland's Bard and especially play down Burns desire for Scottish Independence. Just as the Tory and Labour parties tried to claim that Sir William Wallace fought for Scottish interests and the Scottish identity (none of them could bring themselves to utter Wallace's true cause - INDEPENDENCE), so too they have tried to play down Robert Burns nationalist spirit.

Burns, was employed latterly by the state as an exciseman, and undoubtedly received veiled threats concerning his political writings, indeed at one stage in 1794 he was threatened with the charge of sedition. To this end Burns started to temper his writing and even wrote letters and article under assumed names.

Can anyone question the cultural and economic nationalism of a man who penned the following ? A man for whom Liberty, Freedom and National Identity meant so much ?

"Alas, I have often said to myself what are the boasted advantages which my country reaps from a certain Union that counterbalance the annihilation of her Independence, and even her name !"

Burns was a supporter of the French Revolution and even used some of Tom Paine's radical words from "The Rights of Man" in "For a' That and a' That". (it has been suggested that this should be used as a Scottish National Anthem). After the outbreak of the French Revolution, Burns became an outspoken champion of the Republican cause. His enthusiasm for liberty and social justice dismayed many of his admirers; some shunned or reviled him. See: British poets and the French Revolution Part Five: Robert Burns Man, poet and revolutionary By Alan Woods

In 1859, at a centenary dinner in Boston, Ralph Waldo Emerson affirms that "The Confession of Augsburg, The Declaration of Independence, the French Rights of Man, & the 'Marseillaise' are not more weighty documents in the history of freedom than the songs of Burns." "It is for his songs that Burns is famous. More than any other one factor, they have sustained the cultural consciousness of Scotland. Burns gathered fragmentary songs & legends & transmuted them into something more wonderful & more socially powerful than the originals. As the revolutionary nationalist MacDiarmid also notes, Burns took folksongs of Scottish nationalism, of Stuart legitimism, & subtly altered them into something quite different. Jacobite becomes Jacobin. The songs of partisans filtered through Burns become battle songs of freedom, hymns to the integrity & independence of the individual.".. Kenneth Rexroth

Burns, the Freemason
The very mention of the name "Robert Burns" brings to mind images of red roses, starry-eyed lovers, Tam-O'-Shanter and the Cutty Sark, and the glens of bonnie Scotland. And while these images describe Scotland's "ploughman poet" to some extent, There is another side of Burns that is not as well known: Burns the radical--Burns, the supporter of the French Revolution--Burns, the critic of Religious hypocrisy and Puritanism--Burns, the Freemason.

On the 13th of January, 1787, we find him at a great Mason-lodge meeting, where the Grand Master proposed his health as Caledonia’s Bard, Brother Burns; and he, trembling in every nerve, made the best return in his power, and was consoled, while sitting down amidst the vehement applause of the audience, by overhearing the loud whisper of the Grand Master, "Very well indeed!" How we wish that Wilkie or some other genuine Scottish painter had given us this scene in colours—"Burns at a Grand Mason-lodge Meeting!" Alas! that of this splendid meeting, with all its grand worshipfuls and grand officers, nobles, lawyers, squires, and merchants, that one trembling figure, Brother Burns, sitting down bashful and blushing to the toe-points, and comforted by a friendly compliment accented aloud for his ear, is the only figure that would now be recognized!

Robbie Burns: Drink a toast to a progressive man
Barry McClatchie pays tribute to Scottish poet Robert Burns

Thousands of people, from all walks of life, all over the world celebrate
the immortal memory of Robbie Burns — the aristocracy, the gentry, the
military, the masonic order, political parties, Burns clubs, trade unions
and working people.

In Robert Burns we have a poet who straddles class barriers and who is
toasted by a great diversity of people who might agree with Burns when he
said: "Whisky and Freedom Gang Thegither".

They might all have a common liking for whisky, which many of us here do,
but, unlike Burns, some among the aforementioned have precious little
liking for freedom — especially the freedom for working people.

Burns suppers should not be used as an occasion upon which to hang
political theories nor to draw political parallels, but now, as in Burns'
time, nationalism and the role of the Scottish Parliament are major issues.

Burns was, on this issue and on every other, first and foremost a radical.
He knew and understood the national question.

Most of the current struggles are a continuation of past struggles. Take
the women's struggle. Over 200 years ago, Burns was declaring:

"While Europe's eye is fixed on mighty things"
"The fate of empires and the fall of kings"
"While quacks of state must each produce his plan"
"And even children lisp the Rights Of Man"
"Amid this mighty fuss just let me mention"
"The Rights of Women merit some attention."

We should honour Burns for his belief in a better future for humanity in
his inspiring words:

"The golden age we'll then revive"
"Each man will be a brother"
"In harmony we all shall live and"
"Share the earth together"
"In virtue trained enlighten youth shall"
"Love each fellow creature"
"And future years shall prove the truth"
"That man is good by nature"
"Then let us toast with three times three"
"The reign of peace and liberties."

Ian R Mitchell is stimulated by a new study of Robert Burns
Amongst the steady stream of works on our national bard, Liam McIlvanney's stands out as an ambitious and important study. His aim is to establish that Burns was "one of the great political poets of his own- or any- age." You might think there is nothing original in that, for we are all familiar with the barbs Burns aimed in his poems at the rich and powerful, and his sympathy for the poor. But MacIlvanney's point is this; the image of Burns as an "unlettered ploughman" has made his political ideas seem to be the often inconsistent outpourings of the poet's heart, rather than of his head. In contrast to which, this book argues that Burn's political ideas were a coherent and sophisticated philosophical whole, which - though certainly stimulated by the American and French Revolutions through which he lived - stretched back to an authentic British, and indeed, very Scottish, tradition of radical political thinking

Burns the Radical--- First full study of Burns politics

LIAM MCILVANNEY is Lecturer in English, University of Aberdeen. He is also currently the General Editor of the Association for Scottish Literary Studies

In politics if thou wouldst mix,
And mean thy fortunes be;
Bear this in mind, be deaf and blind,
Let great folks hear and see.

But Robert Burns did mix in politics, and very often it was the 'great folks' who suffered the invective of a poet with a keen satirical eye for political abuses. As a political poet, however, Burns has been ill served by a critical tradition which views him as a na-ve practitioner of rustic verse. In this, the first book-length treatment of Burns's politics, Liam McIlvanney looks behind the trivialising image of the 'heav'n-taught ploughman' to uncover the intellectual context of the poet's political radicalism. McIlvanney reveals Burns as a sophisticated political poet whose work draws on a range of intellectual resources: the democratic, contractarian ideology of Scottish Presbyterianism, the English and Irish 'Real Whig' tradition, and the political theory of the Scottish Enlightenment. Throwing new light on the poets education and his early reading, McIlvanney provides detailed new readings of Burns major poems. The book also offers new research on Burns links with Irish poets and radicals, providing a radical reinterpretation of the man who is coming to be recognised as the poet laureate of the radical Enlightenment.
Burns the Radical-Poetry and Politics in Late Eighteenth century Scotland'
Liam MacIlvanney, £ 16.99, Tuckwell Press ISBN 1 86242 177 9

The Culture of Glasgow
Freddy Anderson

Generally speaking, and with some few exceptions, it is obvious that indigenous Culture in Glasgow is finding it a very difficult struggle to make its way.

Why should this be when there is a wealth of literary and theatrical talent in Glasgow, including its huge peripheral housing-schemes? It is my opinion that the authorities, for all their lip-service to Culture, are very wary lest they open the flood-gates in Glasgow to an immense popular Culture, not Hollywood, Broadway or London-based, that will sweep away within a very few years the hackneyed, time-worn ideas that have been foisted on the people by a servile, manipulated media-machine for decades. I also contend that this suppression and distortion of truth began in Glasgow at the end of the eighteenth century with the appear­ance of Robert Burns' works in the Kilmarnock Edition.

These poems of Robert Burns were such a powerful exposure of the wickedness of the Establishment that it sent them scurrying for ways to undo the damage Burns was causing. Burns received not a single review in any Glasgow paper for his Kilmarnock Edition, but two mealy-mouthed letters that might have come from Holy Willie's pen appeared in The Mercury, signed Amicus by an obvious denigrator of Burns. Such is how the authorities in Glasgow hailed Scotland's greatest literary genius ever. I would not choose to mention this, had, after the great Edinburgh Edition of 1787, the City Fathers and Chamber of Commerce tycoons repented. They never did. Burns presented such a challenge to their philistinism, hypocrisy and 'North British' servitude, that they erected the highest monument in George Square to the loyalist minion, Sir Walter Scott, decades before the pennies of the Glasgow people paid for the much lower plinth of Rabbie Burns on the grass verge. And despite their sustained verbal accolades to Burns every January, they are still unrepentant. There is scarcely a plaque in the entire city to acknowledge the twenty or so links Burns had with Glasgow.

Robert Crawford, ed., Robert Burns and Cultural Authority.
Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1997. xiii + 242 pp. $29.95. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-87745-578-3).1
Reviewed by Ian Duncan, University of Oregon

A. L. Kennedy's essay on Burns and sexuality tries to loosen the poet's writings (letters as well as verse) from the grim phallic monument into which his reputation has hardened; she arrives at a rueful, humane recognition of the ways, overdetermined but not perhaps predestined, in which writing is conditioned by the ideological investments of readers as well as writers. In "Burns and God" Susan Manning traces Burns's quarrel with religion with admirable deftness and sensitivity to register, although one of the hobgoblins of Burns criticism, the location of the poet's authentic voice, slips in and out of the argument. Marilyn Butler offers what is perhaps the most succinct and useful account of a complex topic, Burns's politics, to have been written, and I predict its frequent reappearance in course reading packets. Her essay was written before it could take account of the recent discovery in Scotland of a hitherto overlooked corpus of Burns's Radical writings, which looks likely to revise our sense of the matter, although perhaps it is too early to tell.

The Radical Tradition of Robert Burns
In particular through his book on the 'lost poems' (1), the independent Burns scholar Patrick Scott Hogg has done a great deal to demolish the myth that at the end of his life Burns had become just another disillusioned ex-radical. Patrick is also joint editor of the recently published The Canongate Burns (2), which has irked certain sections of the 'Burns establishment'. The following article is the text of a paper given by him at the Burns Now Conference at the University of Strathclyde on January 18, 2002.

Uncovered: After 205 years experts find lost Burns poems
Ten politically-explosive poems penned anonymously more than 200 years ago have been pronounced the work of Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns.

Five years of research by Scottish academics have proved the works were written by Burns, but were so radical he could have been hanged for treason had he put his name to them.

The ‘lost’ poems are to be published in major new book about Burns’s life, The Canongate Burns, which reveals that, contrary to popular belief, Burns was as radical in later life as he was as a young man.

Until now, it has been argued that when Burns became an Exciseman for the Crown in 1793 he abandoned radical political composition. However, the authentication of the poems, published in 18th-century London magazines, has led to a reassessment of his work after that date.
For the first time, all Burns’s songs, poems and other controversial work, such as the ‘Merry Muses of Caledonia’ - classified as pornography until the mid-1960s - will be printed in the order that they were first published.

Extensive footnotes will also place Burns in a much more radical light.

One of the researchers’ most significant finds was a note indicating that Burns had reworked a poem about revolution in America to give support to the cause of an independent Ireland.

In the new version, the poem, ‘Ode for Hibernia’s Sons’, openly criticises the British government and the royal family for their oppression of the Irish.

Hogg, who unearthed the new information, said: "This is explosively treasonable stuff. As an Exciseman he could well have been tried for treason which could have led to a noose around his neck."

Soapbox Girls Editorial
A few months ago, I turned the television on, switched it to PBS, and there was Maya Angelou, talking to a bunch of white folks. Very white folks. Like, the kind of white that you get from never seeing the sun. Sure enough, it turns out that they were Scottish. (Of all the bits of my mongrel heritage, Scots is the biggest, so I have an eye for that paler-than-the-undead look.)

As it happens, Dr. Angelou was visiting Scotland on a research mission, because she is a great lover of Robbie Burns. The documentary showed her laying her hands on a first-edition collection of Burns’ poems, and speaking with some professorial sort who clearly has near-daily access to it; chatting with a group of resident Burns experts, talking about his love of women and his political spirit; and most rivetingly, sharing in an evening of celebration of Burns’ life and work.

The celebration took place in a castle, in a room so large and dark you could barely make out the walls. The participants sat at tables, and took turns performing for one another. Some sang traditional Burns songs; others read favorite poems; still others sang and played their own compositions to Burns’ words. Maya Angelou told stories, and read poems, and talked, and she was simply her usual incredible self.

At one point, after a tall, burly man finished a spine-tingling rendition of “Scots, Wha Hae” Angelou rose from her seat, embraced the singer, and then turned to face the rest of the hall. She told them that they had a great deal in common, because their people had known slavery, and so had hers.

Tears sprang to my eyes. I didn’t know why, exactly, but I recognized that something very powerful had just passed before my eyes. The camera panned around the room, and intent gazes and nodding heads conveyed a long moment of mutual understanding. I realized that a connection had been made that affected me, personally-the history of my people was connected to other histories of oppression, and suddenly we were more alike than different. It was this abrupt and radical shift in perspective, combined with Angelou’s generous spirit of commonality, that brought intense emotions to the surface.

Toast to Caledonia
BURNS SUPPER - GLASGOW,Friday January 19, 2001
Afif Safieh The Palestinian General Delegate to the UK and the Holy See

On this night we also celebrate the brotherhood of all mankind, wherever
their homes or their exile be, "that man to man the warld o'er shall brothers
be for a'that"…

For me and my Palestinian compatriots to be regarded in this way, as Scots,
is a singular honour, deeply welcomed and cherished and I wish to reciprocate
it tonight. There is so much we can share - though a Scottish friend did
advise me that he would wish to spare me the Scottish weather…. As Burns
might have said, he told me,

'You wouldn't want to be 'dreekit, drookit an' drooned in Drumnadroket',

But questionable weather apart, how can one forget the human warmth we,
Palestinians encounter each time we move beyond Hadrian's Wall. It was
Scotland that pioneered in twinnings with Palestinian cities: Dundee with
Nablus and Glasgow with Bethlehem even when it was still perceived as
suicidal to be pro-Palestinian, even when it was seen as electorally
rewarding to be anti-Palestinian.

Scotland's vision for the future is informed by its political, social and
cultural traditions…its earnest desire -

For social inclusion,
human rights
learning opportunities for all
better health services
new business opportunities and prosperity
information technologies
the love of your land and seas and the nurture they require
supporting Peace and Justice…

Lord Provost, my people will eternally be indebted to the Scottish friends of
Palestine, to the Trade Union friends of Palestine, to the
Scottish-Palestinian Forum and the newly established Scottish-Palestinian All
Party Parliamentary Committee for their dedication in raising awareness here
in Scotland about the dilemmas of the Middle East.
In Palestine, we still suffer, search and struggle, knowing where we wish to
go, knowing the freedom we desire…

The Immortal Memory By Len Murray
Toast At the World Burns Club

He lived in a world of either opulence or oppression.
By accident of birth all were born with privilege or in poverty.
With privilege there was wealth and position.
Without it, there was destitution and despair.
And it was that world of privilege and position, poverty and injustice that Burns hated and constantly condemned.

And the sentiments of change, drastic change in society, then being kindled in Europe, sentiments which would drive the Americans on to Independence and the French to Revolution, they were still anathema to huge swathes of the privileged in this country and elsewhere.
Burns, however, was above all a humanitarian, one who cared for the people like no one before him.
His sympathies were with the poor and the oppressed, the common folk, his fellow man.
And he had a love for all men that no other writer, before him or after, of any age, or of any country, had ever shown.
And so the pen of Robert Burns became the voice of the people; and he expressed the thoughts and the hopes of the people.
"God knows I am no saint. I have a whole host of follies and sins to answer for. But if I could, and I believe that I do it as far as I can, I would wipe all tears from all eyes."
"Whatever mitigates the woes or increases the happiness of others," he wrote, "this is my criterion of goodness; but whatever injures society at large or any individual in it, then this is my measure of iniquity."
No figure in world literature had ever written with such compassion for his fellow man.

But RB left one, a message for all men; for all nations and for all times.
It is a message of friendship; a message of fellowship; but above all else a message of love. It is a message that is just as relevant and just as vibrant today as when it was written over two hundred years ago.
"It's comin' yet for a that an' a' that,
That man tae man the world o'er shall brithers be for a' that."

Delivering Inaugural Robert Burns Memorial Lecture,
UN Secretary-General Annan Calls for Brotherhood, Tolerance, Coexistence among All Peoples

ONE might think there is an ocean of distance between the hard-nosed give-and-take of international diplomacy as it is practised at the United Nations in New York, and the lyrical verse of Robert Burns that emanated from rural Scotland two centuries ago. But look closer.

To take just one example, Burns was born into poverty, and spent his youth working on a farm. Burns’ poems dignify and illuminate the struggle faced by the vast majority of the world’s population today.

Burns has also been described as a poet of the poor, an advocate for political and social change, and an opponent of slavery, pomposity and greed - all causes very much supported by the UN.

But it is one of Burns’s most famous lines - "a man’s a man for a’ that" - that I should like to serve as the touchstone for my remarks. And in particular his prayer, in the same poem, that "man to man, the world o’er, shall brothers be for a’ that".

Living together is the fundamental human project - not just in towns and villages from Scotland to South Africa, but also as a single human family facing common threats and opportunities.

The year just past has seen dramatic challenges to that project. The war in Iraq, failed negotiations on opening up the global trading system and other events have revealed deep fissures. These are not just differences over cotton exports or compliance with UN resolutions. There are world-views at odds.

For many decades now, states and peoples have woven a tapestry of rules, institutions and principles that, it was hoped, would promote prosperity and protect the peace. Today, this fabric may be starting to unravel, and I sense a great deal of anxiety about that, around the world.

Scottish Government First Minister Jack McConnell, in a special video message to mark the 246th anniversary of Burns birth on January 25, 2005, says the poet's message of international brotherhood is as relevant today as it was more than 200 years ago.

Mr McConnell said:

"As Scotland prepares to welcome world leaders to the G8 summit in July, it is worth pausing for a moment to reflect on the message that lies at the heart of Burns work - a message that is truly international and knows no boundaries.

"He despised poverty that surrounded him in 18th century Scotland; relentless grinding poverty that stifles ambition and destroys lives.

"And he mocked the privileged few who prospered but then did nothing to try and alleviate the plight of the majority they left behind.

"If Burns had been alive today, he would certainly have been at the forefront of the campaign to make poverty history.

"The words of frustration he wrote on a banknote in 1786 could have been written today to describe the economic plight of the developing world.

I see the children of affliction
Unaided, through thy curst restriction

"Burns would have argued with passion for an end to the inequalities between nations that condemn millions across the globe to a life of misery while those of us living in Scotland and Europe prosper.

"He would have written, with unparalleled force about the plight of millions of children in Africa condemned to die a premature death from hunger, or Aids, or from 'man's inhumanity to man that makes countless thousands mourn'.

"And he would have spoken with great eloquence of common humanity, of the things that unite us regardless of race, colour or belief.

"2005 is a rare opportunity for the home of Burns to stand up and again proclaim the eternal message of the brotherhood of man.

Welcome to The Burns Encyclopedia online - the complete text of the definitive Robert Burns reference volume.

Burns's political allegiance has been claimed by supporters of every political party or faction from extreme right to extreme left. He was, in fact, a good example of Dr Johnson's dictum about the unwisdom of giving one's loyalty of mind to a
Single party in that his attitude to the political parties of his day changed as he grew older. In any case he was never wholly committed to either.

In a sense, however, Burns's involvement in the wider issues of politics — the values behind politics, of which political parties are necessarily so partial an expression — remained fairly constant, although, like sensitive Scots of his day (and, for that matter, our own) he had to try to balance seemingly irreconcilable opposites. Thus, on the face of it, Burns was at the same time a Jacobite and a Jacobin. But only 'on the face of it!'

His nationalism, his internationalism, and his radicalism never wavered. He believed constantly and passionately in Scotland, in 'the brotherhood of man' and in the rights of the ordinary man.

In his autobiographical letter to John Moore, Burns described his recognition of his feelings for Scotland: '... the story of Wallace poured a Scottish prejudice in my veins which will boil alang there till the flood-gates of life shut in eternal rest.'

His Jacobitism led him to write such songs as 'O Kenmure on and awa' ' and 'Scots wha hae'. It could lead him to send to the Editor of the Edinburgh Evening Courant a protest when a minister of religion, celebrating the Revolution of 1688, reviled the Stuarts:

'Bred and educated in revolution principles, the principles of reason and common sense, it could not be any silly political prejudice that made my heart revolt at the harsh abusive manner in which the Reverend Gentleman mentioned the House of Stuart, and which, I am afraid, was too much the language of that day. We may rejoice sufficiently in our deliverance from past evils, without cruelly raking up the ashes of those whose misfortune it was, perhaps, as much as their crimes, to be the authors of these evils... The Stuarts have been condemned and laughed at for the folly and impracticability of their attempts, in 1715 and 1745. That they failed, I bless my God most fervently, but cannot join in the ridicule against them... Let every man, who has a tear for the many miseries incident to humanity, feel for a family, illustrious as any in Europe, and unfortunate beyond historic precedent; and let every Briton, and particularly every Scotsman, who ever looked with reverential pity on the dotage of a parent, cast a veil over the fatal mistakes of the Kings of his forefathers.' Whatever his sentimental attachment to the Jacobites, Burns was aware that theirs was a lost cause. In 'Ye Jacobites by name', he advised:

"Then let your schemes alone,
In the State!
Then let your schemes alone,
Adore the rising sun,
And leave a man undone
To his fate!"

That he was keenly aware, however, of the inadequacies of the ruling representatives of the House of Hanover he showed in 'A Dream'.

"Tis very true, my sovereign King,
My skill may weel be doubted;
But facts are chiels that winna ding,
An' downa be disputed:
Your royal nest, beneath your wing,
Is e'en right reft and clouted,
And now the third part of the string,
An' less, will gang about it
Than did ae day."

Nor was he under any illusions as to the real nature of the political jobbery which accomplished the unpopular Treaty of Union of 1707:

"What force or guile could not subdue
Thro' many warlike ages
Is wrought now by a coward few
For hireling traitor's wages.
The English steel we could disdain,
Secure in valour's station:
But English gold has been our bane
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation."

Which of us today does not echo his protest: 'Nothing can reconcile me to the common terms, 'English ambassador, English court, & etc...'?

His internationalism and his radicalism were bound up with one another:

"For a that, and a' that,
It's comin' yet for a' that,
That Man to Man, the world o'er,
Shall brithers be for a' that."

What was coming, so far as Burns was concerned, was not only the brotherhood of Man, but changed social conditions where no longer hundreds would have to

"... labour to support
A haughty lordling's pride."

One aspect of his attitude prior to the French Revolution is perhaps summed up in 'The Twa Dogs', in which the manners of the rich are satirised much as Beaumarchais satirised them in The Marriage of Figaro. (Incidentally, the kin

Ship between Mozart and Burns, whose short lives coincided within a few years, is not unworthy of comment, since social satire lies behind not only Figaro, which appeared the same year as the Kilmarnock Poems, but also Cosi fan Tutte and Don Giovanni.)

Nor are his 'Lines on Meeting with Lord Daer' the toadying contradiction they are sometimes made out to be, for Daer sympathised with the Friends of the People, as did Burns. Besides,

"The fient o' pride, nae pride had he,
Nor sauce, nor state that I could see,
Mair than an honest ploughman!"

But after 1793, Burns's sympathy for France seemed to sharpen. Certainly, if 'The Tree of Liberty' is by him, there can be no doubt about his revolutionary sentiments:

"But vicious folk ay hate to see
The warks o' Virtue thrive, man;
The courtly vermin's bann'd the tree,
And grat to see it thrive, man!
King Louis thought to cut it down,
When it was unco sma', man;
For this the watchman crack'd his crown,
Cut aff his head and a', man."

This certainly accords with the sentiments in his letter of 12th January 1795 (the month in which 'Is there for honest poverty? was written) that so offended Mrs Dunlop:

'What is there in the delivering over a perjured Blockhead and an unprincipled Prostitute to the hands of the hangman, that it should arrest for a moment, attention, in an eventful hour, when, as my friend Roscoe of Liverpool gloriously expresses it -

"When the welfare of Millions is hung in the scale
And the balance yet trembles with fate!",

Nor is there much doubt about the significance of the 'Ode on General Washington's Birthday':

"Here's freedom to them that would read.
Here's freedom to them that would write!
There's nane ever fear'd that the truth should be heard
But they wham the truth would indite!"

So much for Burns's political attitudes. His actual political alignment can be gauged from his various election Ballads. Those written in 1789-90 — the 'Election Ballad for Westerha', 'The Five Carlins', and the 'Election Ballad at Close of the Contest for Representing the Dumfries Burgh, 1790' — are more or less Pittite in sentiment, and therefore pro-Tory. But in 1795, Burns had swung over to the Whigs with his four Ballads in support of Patrick Heron of Kerroughtree, which show, as Thomas Crawford puts it, Burns 'interpreting the French Revolutionary doctrines in terms of the general Whig demands for Parliamentary Reform'. The threat of French invasion may have induced doubts about the intentions of France:

"... For never but by British hands
Maun British wrangs be righted !"

but not about the original principles behind France's revolution: so, said Burns:

"...While we sing God save the King
We'll ne'er forget the People!"

"A Man's a Man For A' That"

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.

For Hawk

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Anonymous said...

"Weel done, Cutty-sark!"

I can't imagine what you thought I'd disagree with. :)


eugene plawiuk said...

Weel laddie we always disagree so this is a first. just kidding