Sunday, January 25, 2009

A man's a man for a' that

The 250th anniversary of Robert Burns' birth provides me with an excuse to revive this blog, but sadly it has been neglected elsewhere - at least if the publications I read are anything to go by. History Today, the New Statesman, Guardian and Observer have all arrived with little or no comment on the anniversary, a poor recognition of someone who is not only only Scotland's national poet, but also one with a worldwide reputation and who speaks powerfully of the human condition.

How to explain such neglect. Perhaps it is that with Burns celebrations on 25 January every year, the novelty of a big anniversary doesn't seem that great. I suspect that the London media are tempted to leave Burns to their Scottish counterparts. Secondly, there is a tendency, connived at by at least some Scots, to coat Burns in an aura of tartan tweeness, along with sporrans, Baxter's soup, shortbread and oatcakes.

Whichever way, few enough of us were around for the 200th anniversary or will be for the 300th. This is an opportuninity to celebrate a great lyric poet and a political radical whose writings should be an inspiration to Liberals and everyone with progressive values.

The BBC, under fire from so many quarters just now, has taken the Burns anniversary seriously, so you can watch or listen to any of the programmes listed here. Strangely not listed are is today's edition of Poetry Please on Radio 4, which you can listen to here.

And perhaps also take a little time to read at least one Burns poem, possibly even this one:

Is there for honest Poverty

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 cuif 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 aboon 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.