Rather like Pablo Neruda spoke for the Chilean people for much of the last century, to this day Robert Burns sings for his countrymen. While the rest of the English-speaking world might think of Shakespeare when mention is made of “The Bard,” for Scots, this moniker belongs to their favorite son, born to a cotter (farmer) over two hundred and fifty years ago this week. But, more than a mere nickname, Bard, with a capital “B”, is a title held in reverence by a proud nation.
Just as Neruda’s eloquence resonated throughout all of Latin America, Burns’ words carry far beyond Caledonia. And just as the former wrote of social justice in one poem and lust in the next, the latter could lampoon the powers that be, while praising his “luve” with equal zeal.
Countries that have suffered oppression, be it at the hands of empire or not, seem to venerate writers to a much greater degree than do wealthy political powers. Take Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic. He was elected the first president of that newly established post-Cold War state. And you can hardly walk the streets of Dublin without running into a statue of some laureate. While in these United States we have elected a former movie star to the highest office in the land, can you imagine a poet in the Oval Office? Alas, I’m afraid Shelley was but wishfully thinking when he insisted that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. The Third World perhaps.
But, Scotland is a far cry from the Third World. As is Ireland, once dubbed the land of saints and scholars. Although Scotland, too, has had its fair share of scholars and those with a propensity for piety, its favorite prodigal is a most lovable sinner. Of course I’m referring to that naughty bonny boy with a “guid” heart (figuratively speaking), who stole more than a few from the lasses along the way. I make a point of my speaking figuratively, for, in a literal sense, Burns had a bad heart, which accounts for his early death.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Ploughman Poet and hearing his words spoken (brogue and all) and sung, come to Our Town Books at 7:00 this Thursday for A Night Out With Robert Burns. Oh, and there’ll be haggis (care of Dr. Ugs cafe) and scotch (care of Jim) to boot. And go easy on the scotch. For one thing it ain’t cheap — no jokes regarding Scottish frugality please. For another, the whole clan will be trekking over to the Pine Tree Studio for the entertainment portion of the evening. And we wouldn’t want anyone losing his or her footing along the way.
We’ll have copies of a book, sharing the event’s title, for sale.