Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Poetry Inertia

So. 250 years since our national bard Robert Burns appeared on Earth. I've eaten my haggis, drunk my whisky, and watched the BBC's Burns broadcast from Celtic Connections. And yup, the guy is awesome.

I wouldn't necessarily go as far as someone I read this week who described him as the greatest British poet since Shakespeare, though he'd surely make any such short list. What I would suggest is that even for the English, never mind the Scots, his works have entered the collective consciousness - become part of the language - to a greater extent than those of any poet, or even any writer, since Shakespeare. For heaven's sake, what Englishman would have heard of a haggis if Burns hadn't eulogised it? What would they sing at New Year if Burns hadn't provided them with the perfect anthem? Why are those funny Scots bonnets called Tam O'Shanters? Why was the famous ship named the Cutty Sark? Complete this famous phrase: my love is like a .......

Anyway, here are a few of my own favourites. Now Westlin Winds, described by Dick Gaughan as saying everything that needs to be said about anything, and all in five stanzas:

Now westlin winds and slaughtering guns
Bring autumn's pleasant weather
The moorcock springs on whirring wings
Among the blooming heather
Now waving grain, wild o'er the plain
Delights the weary farmer
And the moon shines bright as I rove at night
To muse upon my charmer

The partridge loves the fruitful fells
The plover loves the mountain
The woodcock haunts the lonely dells
The soaring hern the fountain
Through lofty groves the cushat roves
The path of man to shun it
The hazel bush o'erhangs the thrush
The spreading thorn the linnet

Thus every kind their pleasure find
The savage and the tender
Some social join and leagues combine
Some solitary wander
Avaunt! Away! the cruel sway,
Tyrannic man's dominion
The sportsman's joy, the murdering cry
The fluttering, gory pinion

But Peggy dear the evening's clear
Thick flies the skimming swallow
The sky is blue, the fields in view
All fading green and yellow
Come let us stray our gladsome way
And view the charms of nature
The rustling corn, the fruited thorn
And every happy creature

We'll gently walk and sweetly talk
Till the silent moon shines clearly
I'll grasp thy waist and, fondly pressed,
Swear how I love thee dearly
Not vernal showers to budding flowers
Not autumn to the farmer
So dear can be as thou to me
My fair, my lovely charmer

Then we have The Silver Tassie, surely one of the great songs of parting. (Though these days the shock of claret by the pint is an unintended distraction.)

Go fetch to me a pint o wine,
And fill it in a silver tassie;
That I may drink, before I go,
A service to my bonie lassie:
The boat rocks at the Pier o' Leith,
Fu' loud the wind blaws frae the Ferry,
The ship rides by the Berwick-law,
And I maun leave my bony Mary.

The trumpets sound, the banners fly,
The glittering spears are ranked ready,
The shouts o' war are heard afar,
The battle closes deep and bloody.
It's not the roar o' sea or shore,
Wad make me langer wish to tarry;
Nor shouts o' war that's heard afar-
It's leaving thee, my bony Mary!

Next, a very famous song even before Steeleye Span got at it. He didn't like the Act Of Union, oh dear no. Not sure how he'd have viewed devolution.

Fareweel to a' our Scottish fame
Fareweel our ancient glory
Fareweel e'en to the Scottish name
So famed in martial story
Now Sark runs to the Solway sands
And Tweed runs to the ocean
To mark where England's province stands
Such a parcel o' rogues in a nation

What force or guile could not subdue
Through 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 o' rogues in a nation

O would ere I had seen the day
That treason thus could sell us
My auld grey heid had lien in clay
Wi' Bruce and loyal Wallace
But pith find power till my last hour
I'll mak this declaration
We're bought and sold for English gold
Such a parcel o' rogues in a nation

And finally my all-time favourite. For anyone who has ever had to relinquish someone they loved to distraction.

Ae fond kiss and then we sever;
Ae fareweel, and then for ever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee.

Who shall say that Fortune grieves him,
While the star of hope she leaves him?
Me, nae cheerful twinkle lights me;
Dark despair around benights me.

I'll ne'er blame my partial fancy,
Naething could resist my Nancy:
But to see her was to love her;
Love but her, and love for ever.

Had we never lov'd sae kindly,
Had we never lov'd sae blindly,
Never met - or never parted,
We had ne'er been broken-hearted.

Fare-thee-weel, though first and fairest!
Fare-thee-weel, though best and dearest!
Thine be ilka joy and treasure,
Peace, Enjoyment, Love and Pleasure!

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever!
Ae fareweel, alas, for ever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee.

BTW, the title of this post makes perfect sense if you say it with a Scots accent and think about which county Burns hails from. (Gets coat......)


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