On Robert Burns……….

27 Jan

I was asked recently to propose a toast to Robert Burns. The occasion was no more than some local friends getting together for some Haggis Neeps and Tatties, a few drinks and an excuse to sing… and have a few drinks… recite some poetry and… have a few drinks.

There was nothing formal– no black ties— no celebs or anything like that— just a few good local drunks!

I thought about what to say?

How I had come to like Burns perhaps?

How I had left school with the view that Burns was not for me and that he was an “establishment” figure, sitting on a shortbread tin and was followed by “guid scots”— amongst whose ranks I did not include myself.

Perhaps I could list some of the endless strange things I knew about Burns and Burns suppers?

How such suppers had spread after 1801.

How Wordsworth had come to visit Burns’ grave in the early 19th century and warned the Burns family that his memory was about to be distorted and his life story altered to suit the views of politicians and the English establishment?

How Burns’ official Biography was inaccurate in many ways and how the Burns family had tried (in vain) to have it corrected.

How certain members of the Burns family had been paid much needed money not to criticise or contradict the biography– which ran to nine editions and was reprinted ad nauseam so perpetuating many falsehoods about the man.

How Burns father was originally from the North of Scotland and that Burns was born just 14 years after Culloden – the aftermath of which was the brutal Highland Clearances with murder, rape and pillage all on the orders of the Duke of Cumberland who, in turn, was rewarded with a new £25,000 per annum stipend over and above what he received from the Civil list. The Duke then had some music especially written for him by Handel and had a rose named in his honour, all as a reward for his excellent work in the highlands. The Rose was called The Sweet William, though in Scotland it is sometimes known as “The Stinking Willie!”.

How when Burns published his poetry,.the bagpipes and Tartan were illegal, only the King’s English had to be spoken, there were still people being transported to the colonies for the slightest thing, and so publishing in a Scottish Dialect was dangerous if not illegal.

How he had supported American Independence, toasted George Washington, the French Revolution and Madam Guillotine.

Perhaps I could talk of the relationship between Burns and Jean Armour, who he technically married twice and how when her father threw her out between those two marriages Burns arranged lodgings etc for her, broke off his relationship with “Nancy” McElhone, and how the couple would bring up at least one of Burns’ children by another woman as their own.

How the Burns Club in Atlanta Georgia is an exact replica of the cottage in Alloway and how it had been the idea of, and initially paid for, by an Austrian man who poured the very first coca cola

— and so on and so on.

I have to be honest and say that most Burns Suppers I have been to have fallen into two categories:

The first is where groups of tweedie suited men conduct a supper with some wearing big chains of office which seem to say ” I am the President of the Burns Club and your no!” They then proceed to toast the Queen, and the lassies who are nowhere in sight, and reply on behalf of the lassies who are nowhere in sight and go on to make dreadfully dull heartfelt speeches!

I hated such dinners. Apart from the hypocrisy of there being nae women present and the fact that I doubt Burns would be too quick to toast the Monarch ( check out his poetry written on the window of a pub within view of Stirling Castle to see one example of why not )………. theses dinners were just awful.

The second kind of dinner was the big official ones where celebs come along and say damn nearly anything they want — except anything to do with Burns— in the name of a Burns supper. Yes. there would be some reference to the man and his poetry but scarce little– and as for the crowd? Well they were all professionals, hell bent on networking for professional purposes as opposed to anything else and who were in no way interested in Burns and what he had to say or what impact he had had on literature and society.

Now there is nothing wrong with networking at a dinner but it just struck me that they could do that at any old dinner and that any dinner they attended had feck all do with anyone’s memory let alone the Bard’s immortal memory!

I have been to good Burns suppers- they do exist – but in other parts of the world Burns suppers are inclusive of women, are much more relaxed affairs and end with a ceilidh. In essence, they are a party where other people’s poetry is even recited and appreciated amidst Burns’ own works.

And that’s another thing— Burns wrote loads of poems– not just the ten or twelve that we are spoonfed in this country. He also collected or wrote hundreds of songs and tunes for no payment– yet many of these are only rarely aired in favour of the same old, same old, ones being churned out every January.

So, I sort of wanted to point out all of this to my friends as part of my daft wee toast– but didn’t want to appear as giving a lecture ( jeez I am not qualified to give a lecture on anything let alone Burns )

Above all else, when someone speaks at any kind of event it has to be an entertainment, easy on the ear and the brain, with hopefully a few laughs in between.

So, I came up with a wee rhyme of my own which incorporates a couple of Burns lines to Simon Grey and the early poem “The Fornicator”– which was an early swing at what Burns saw as the hypocrisy of the Kirk ( which virtually ran the local communities when Burns was alive ) and the Calvinistic type of minister which abounded at the time. There were those with a more liberal view but these were few and far between, and generally it was a dangerous time for man who was too liberal in his public words.

Robert Burns was a brave man, but he still published many of his words anonymously even after he had become famous! His words were often too controversial to be openly published in his name.

My wee rhyme is far from perfect and my views on Burns and his life are not in any way meant to suggest any expertise on the man and his work. This is just my take on what I Know and have read about a quite remarkable man.

It also wasn’t intended to form part of any blog but as some folk have asked me to write it out then here it is, although I have taken out the odd minor local reference which no one other than my neighbours would get or connect with.

Oh and if you went to the big fancy Lord Provost’s Burns Supper, I don’t really think everyone there is a hypocrite! I am just taking a generic swipe at some folk I have encountered at a past event and I mean it to be no more than a gentle dig at some… professional …..professional …..types!!

Burnsbegg is the name of a local street where I live and Luggy Heid is pal of mine who just happens to live there.

Lastly below my wee rhyme are the full verses of what my Sligo born Grandfather                   (affectionately known as “Steptoe” in our house) thought was the greatest message ever written into a piece of poetry. All I will say is that any examination of the history of poetry, literature, social philosophy, enlightened thinking, American History or damn near anything else seems to suggest that Steptoe was right!




So here we are, in a Doctors hoose,

tae hear Holy Wullie’s prayer and tae a moose

Wae Drouthy Neighbhours wha neighbours meet,

Eatin haggis, tatties and ee’n a neep!

We’ve abandoned our weans- be they boy be they lass

So we can gae oot, and sip fae a glass

Teenagers in charge wi coca cola and raitions

Such a Parcel O Rogues — all on play stations!

But if you gae doon tae ol Glasgow Toon

For the princely sum o’ one hunnered poon

You can awe sit in— at the Lord Provost’s Burns baw

Wi they chains a’ office –and dignitaries awe!

Aye eight hundred and fifty mannies and madams

Will hear an event chaired by Kaye Adams

A who’s who o the great will be making speeches

An Fiona Kennedy sings tae the high notes she reaches!

Eight Hundred and fifty! Professionally rated

Lawyers and folk — the wans Robbie hated!

Will rub shoulder to shoulder all wi a plan

Toadyin tae bankers and funny shake hauns.

They are there for appearance sake, awe hypocrits

Swearing blind tae an anither that they love burns tae bits!

The kinda folk that aul Burns would see through

Black Ties and Ball Gowns– and probably fou!

You awe know the type, they’re pompous—- like Paxman

Make no mistake Rob wuild gie them the axe man

Jeremy says Burns is—- all shortbread and sporrans

And wrote in a language which to Paxman wis Foreign.

Now Rob once met a man, who was like the newsreader

A Kings English man—a certain in-breeder

He met him in Duns —-a right wealthy man

Who thought at the poetry he would try his hand

He sent Burns his poetry for to review

and Robbie replied with his opinion so true!

A note he did send to this Simon Gray

It said “ Oh Simon Gray- You are dull today”

But big heided Simon he sent Burns some more

And gie him more verses o’er which to pour!

Burns looked, and he read and then he considered

Sent Simon a new note- and he didne dither

Here’s what he wrote!

“Dulness, with redoubted sway,

Has seized the wits of Simon Gray.”

Now Grey was astounded and plain undeterred

and like Paxman the pompous thought Burns he had erred

He sent yet more poems and DE- rided Burns,

so Rob aimed all his wit , fired all his big guns!

Dear Simon Gray,

The other day,

When you sent me some rhyme,

I could not then just ascertain

Its worth, for want of time.

But now today, good Mr. Gray,

I’ve read it o’er and o’er,

Tried all my skill, but find I’m still

Just where I was before.

We auld wives’ minions

gie our opinions,

Solicited or no;

Then of its fau’ts

my honest thoughts

I’ll give – and here they go.

Such damned bombast

no time that’s past

Will show, or time to come,

So, Simon dear,

your song I’ll tear,

And with it wipe my bum.


Rob he wrote for the real common man—

for Provosts and Paxmen he’d no care a damn!

But neighbours? Guidd neighbours—awe at the nappy?

Reciting a poem? That made Burns gang happy!

You see Burns was the man! Far more than a poet

But maist folk in Scotland they just dinna know it

For we ‘re no taught Robbie Burns in our classrooms and schools

Bar my luv is a red rose- aye that’s enough for the fools.

There is nothing about Robert Burns just the man

And that’s quite deliberate- you see that was the plan!

Burns he was funny, not dirgeful nor deid

Not the domain o strange men toastin lassies in tweed

When they guys go speak of the bard, yes their borin!

Toastin lassies no there – they would leave you tae snoring!

So let me tell a tale that is true and is apt

How the real Robert Burns was just plain Kidnapped!

Burns dies in July seven—teen ninety six

Right away Pitt the younger he’s caught in a fix

Ten to twelve THOUSAND mourners come from near and afar

To pay their respect to the first superstar!

But in London, Pitt wonders at this show O emotion

Concerned it’s the start of a rebels commotion

For Burns toasted Washington and preached revolution

Wanted rid o the king for republic solution

And did he no sing of events at Culloden?

And rant oan an oan about Scotland downtrodden?

What’s worse he caused outrage, yes that could be seen

When he openly praised— Madam Guillotine!

No Rob had nae fear in aw’t that he said

He wanted nae slavery, and cut the king’s head!

So Pitt was afraid of this Burnsian curse

And so when Robbie died he reached for his purse!

He paid all the Burns’es— every woman and man

Children and siblings, took control o the clan

Took weans down tae London gave them jobs and a station

And moulded Burns legend for Kirk and for nation

But Burns he escaped though some words were suppressed

But awe o’er the world he’s revered as the best!

Coleridge and Shelley, Wordsworth and Byron,

Tennyson, Keats— they all found him Inspirin

That’s why he’s more statues o’er any other author

Not Shakespeare or Dante or Dickens or Chaucer

His music’s played all over- from the great wall of china

The Americas, Africa, Asia east- Asia minor

He’s inspired musicians both the deid and the livin

Shostakovitch, Meindleson- even Bob Dylan!

Tam O Shanter you know Jackson’s Thriller inspired

Ayrshire boglies and ghouls wi a moonwalk was fired

He has an Album o Bard songs that’s yit no released

Alas like poor Robbie now Michael’s deceased!

But what’s never revealed, only hinted as rumour

Was Robbie’s rude wit and rebellious humour

How bout the time he was made to confess,

of unlawful liaison wi a girl he called Bess?

Tae the Kirk we was summonsed to face a rebuke,

Fae the Minster and the hypocrites that made Robbie puke

They abused him and brusied him wi Bess by his side

And warned of damnation and woe may betide

And then they demanded a monetary fine,

That’s a guid way to pay for a meenester’s wine

Thus many a man ne’er admitted his guilt

if he found himself under a young maiden’s quilt

They denied they had ever been in her bed

and would leave girls and their weans as if they were dead

But Burns he was different, he loved every wean,

he was never afraid to gae an his name

He knew just the poor faced a cutty step fine,

but the landed and monied could continue just fine

With no word fae the Meenister– awe white collars and black

— and so Robbie Burns he went on the attack!

Confined to the hoose by a Meenisters words

he picked up his pen— oh as sharp as a sword

And before he was famous he penned this we verse,

a literary way of showin a meenester his erse!

Ye jovial boys who love the joys.

The blissful joys of Lovers;

Yet dare avow with dauntless brow,

When th’ bony lass discovers;

Pray draw near and lend an ear,

And welcome in a Prater,

For I’ve lately been on quarantine,

A proven Fornicator.

Before the Congregation wide

I pass’d the muster fairly,

My handsome Betsey by my side,

We gat our ditty rarely;

But my downcast eye by chance did spy

What made my lips to water,

Those limbs so clean where I, between,

Commenc’d a Fornicator.

With rueful face and signs of grace

I pay’d the buttock-hire,

The night was dark and thro’ the park

I could not but convoy her;

A parting kiss, what could I less,

My vows began to scatter,

My Betsey fell-lal de dal lal lal,

I am a Fornicator.

But for her sake this vow I make,

And solemnly I swear it,

That while I own a single crown,

She’s welcome for to share it;

And my roguish boy his Mother’s joy,

And the darling of his Pater,

For him I boast my pains and cost,

Although a Fornicator.

Ye wenching blades whose hireling jades

Have tipt you off blue-boram,

I tell ye plain, I do disdain

To rank you in the Quorum;

But a bony lass upon the grass

To teach her esse Mater,

And no reward but for regard,

O that’s a Fornicator.

Your warlike Kings and Heros bold,

Great Captains and Commanders;

Your mighty Cesars fam’d of old,

And Conquering Alexanders;

fields they fought and laurels bought

And bulwarks strong did batter,

But still they grac’d our noble list

And ranked Fornicator!!!

Aye Burns was funny, Burns was rude

But Burns he gets you thinking

And never did a one think more

than the one they ca’ed Abe Lincoln

He made a Burns centenary Speech in Springfield Illinois

And warned the states Burns was his mate and really was the boy

He preached a man’s a man for awe that, –demanded the end of slavery

On Burn’s word he went to war– an acknowledged act o bravery

Its seems absurd but those Burns words that spoke of social revolution

From Lincoln’s mouth reached way down south and changed the Constitution.

The Russians shouted Burns’ name and placed him on a stamp

Called him “ The people’s poet” of liberty a champ.

Two hundred countries know his name and celebrate his fame

No Dickens Dinners, Byron Breakfasts could ever be the same

Scott Fae Embra wi awe his tales of Ivanhoe and that

Said Burns was best, above awe the rest – makes eithers look like tat!

So good neighbors, my tale ye’ve heard about this lad caw’ed Burns

We’el hae some music, recite some words and i’ll gae someone else a turn

But before I go there’s some things to know that you’d no find oot in Glesga

So bend yer ear for this I fear is what ye will all remember!

You see Robbie had a baby sister — they called her Isabella

An she married a quarry boy a nice young Ayrshire fella

She had 9 children of her ain- 3 girls and six young men

But fae a horse her husband fell and never rose again.

Now Bella struggled wi her family and needed Young Pitt’s money

Cause being poor when weans are newer- that just isny funny

In return for Crown she was meant to drown Rob’s name and his opinions

But Bella’s way would save the day, round Pitt she would run rings man

You see her husband dead was a Mr Begg and she would take his name

But awe her weans wouldna be the same and would continue uncle Robbie’s fame

So Bella’s nine spent a their time calling themsels “ Burns Begg ”

And Bella kept young Pitt’s fair coin and innocence she plead

Now Burns Begg is a name wee know , and there rests a luggy heid

And know the roof that’s oe’r yon heid— is only there cause Burns is deid

Through time and land the Burns Begg clan saw out every generation

Burns Begg’s the name and they maintained it awe for preservation

In Nineteen Hundred and Twenty seven a Burns Begg looked for work

And strange to say, he came this way a Meenester at oor ain Kirk.

Up station Road he often go’ed and for 50 years he stayed

An I bet you,that this is true, n’er a cutty step fine was paid!

He proclaimed awe Burns, preached in turns of God and of the bard

The message clear after twa hundred years, to learn it isny hard.


Man love a woman and love her good and take her in yer arms

Love her heart and love her soul and awe her womanly charms.

Girls love yer mannie, Bill or Danny even though he be unco fou

And love yer weans, how e’er they came- no matter what they do.

An love awe men and awe ye ken for a man’s a man for awe that

An if ye hae a dream wi a bonny jean ye’ll conquer all and awe that

But a word o advice tae the girls so nice before ah go awa man

It’s a word ay advice for a Sunday Morn or any day at awe man

Dinna go bare legged tae the BurnsBegg Kirk, and remember Betsey’s faw

Cause the Buttock’s hire- well it did expire afore Bess n Rob hit the graveyard wa!

And for whit they got fined, they once again entwined and tae hell wi reprehension

But Eternity’s dear and Burns Begg’s main fear wis a street o hooses wi duff extensions

A street whaur drouthie neighbours meet, getting fou and unco happy

Yes its true the minister knew where his congregations was on the nappy

But the time has come to be toastin burns’ memory immoral and immortal

I hope this air has been guid and fair and on occasion made you chortle

Cause Robert Burns’ spirit is not deid, That spirit knows nae borders

He talked of freedom for the poor, and of a whole new social order

Tae a mouse or louse, where ere yer house Burns’ poetry was aye first class

His words today—well they still hold sway– and so to him I raise my glass!!!

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.


3 Responses to “On Robert Burns……….”

  1. STRINGLUG January 28, 2013 at 4:39 am #

    Mibbes more of a chant than a song but, by God, you’ve caught the measure of the man. Renowned the world over as the universal poet of the common man, Only in Britain, regarded as a minor scribe. A Scotland schooled in a vision of the true Burns would be country to aspire to.

  2. A Moyes March 10, 2013 at 10:20 pm #

    How anybody can think that Britain regards Burns as “a minor scribe”is beyond me. Practically every child of school age in Scotland is able to recite something from Burns, everybody knows Auld Lang Syne ( BUT PLEASE STOP PRONOUNCING SYNE AS IF IT BEGINS WITH Z). Burns was an enigma, he was pro the French and American revolutions, at times he sounded like a Scottish Nationalist and at others pro union. He loved the lassies and detested pomposity. The words of Ae Fond Kiss have to be the greatest ever used to describe the end of a relationship, hearfelt and poignant. My personal favourite is his sarcasm to someone buying books “by the yard” to fill their library.

    Through and through the inspired leaves
    Ye maggots make your windings,
    but please respect his lordships taste
    and spare his golden bindings

    • Brogan Rogan Trevino and Hogan March 11, 2013 at 8:09 am #

      Good Morning,

      My complaint about Burns in our schools is that he is sort of skimmed over, with children being given one of the standards to learn a piece of, but taught very little of the history of the man himself. His impact on contemporary literature, or those who came immediately after his death, is little taught– and to be honest at my school we were taught more about the lifestyle and history of the so called romantics– Keats,Byron,Shelley etc– than about Burns.

      Burns’ politics are a fascination– especially given the time he lived in, his background and his brief celebrity in the grand houses of Edinburgh.

      As for his love life– I have often thought that not enough is made of what seems to have been his “honour” and whilst I agree that Ae Fonde Kiss is a masterful and wonderful expression from a romantic heart– his feelings, as expressed for Nancy, make his decision to return to Jean after the first flush of lust/love even more romantic and extraordinary.

      Jean Armour was a remarkable and an extraordinary woman in many respects.

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