who was Robert Burns (1759-1796)? A cultural nationalist? A linguistic nationalist? A romantic poet with a capital R, or a romantic poet with a small r? A libertine? a rural bard? a libertine? the poet laureate of the working man? Probably.
He certainly was raised on a farm and remained a farmer all his life, although one who pursued writing for profit and pleasure, and who was recognized for it in his lifetime–eventually offering him some respite from physical labor. He was a religious man who had no truck with the puritanical conservatism of the Scottish High Kirk. The appeal to nature–as fact or metaphor–is never far in most of his famous works. He worked on love lyrics and Scottish folk tales, and of course he’s most recognizable for his use of dialect–which really isn’t so tricky once you read a few of the lyrics out loud. Having seen “Trainspotting” or “Under the Skin” recently will help.
And many of the published pieces were actually songs, sometimes original and sometimes version of folk songs, meant to be sung. That as much as anything describes his use of form–the line lengths are short, the rhythms loose (folksy) but regular, and the rhyme schemes either couplets or alternating ABAB. I want to note that the occasion of my selecting Burns this week was a weekend Parks & Recreation marathon, in particular the London episode from season 6. Ron Swanson is sent on a wild goose chase of sorts that ends in the birthplace of his favorite single-malt scotch, and, for the viewer, in some rather lovely footage (especially for a sitcom). The moment where Ron reflects on his trip via some forced-upon him poetry is great, and I have a link below, for fans. Not a bad piece of acting by Mr. Offerman, either! Following that, the full text of the poem. -ed.
O were my Love yon Lilack fair,
Wi’ purple blossoms to the Spring;
And I, a bird to shelter there,
When wearied on my little wing.
How I wad mourn, when it was torn
By Autumn wild, and Winter rude!
But I wad sing on wanton wing,
When youthfu’ May its bloom renew’d.
O gin my love were yon red rose,
That grows upon the castle wa’!
And I mysel’ a drap o’ dew,
Into her bonnie breast to fa’!
Oh, there beyond expression blesst
I’d feast on beauty a’ the night;
Seal’d on her silk-saft faulds to rest,
Till fley’d awa by Phebus’ light!