Burns’ Night 2017 is here, at long last. Not only does this signal the beginning of another exciting new year but gives us a chance to celebrate a great poet. Poetry is not necessarily something most people make much time for anymore so at least we get this one night a year to really go to town.
Look, it is a real pain in the neck trying to remember all the passwords we need to use on a daily basis, then we have phone numbers, birthdays and people’s names. To top it all off, we should be remembering poems as well, especially as Burns’ Night is upon us. With that in mind I have reached out to some of the world’s leading experts on the works of Robert Burns and compiled a list of their favourite works by the Bard of Ayrshire.
This poem was suggested by Colin Waters from the Scottish Poetry Library who says:
When reading his poetry, one encounters many Robert Burns. There is Burns the love (‘Ae Fond Kiss’); Burns the environmentalist (‘To a Mouse’); Burns the patriot (‘Scots Wha Hae’); and Burns the drinker (“Freedom an’ whisky gang thegither! Take aff your dram!”). Personally, I like Burns best when he talks from the heart about the injustices he saw in his day, injustices which, alas, continue into our own time. And there is no better poem of his that captures that spirit than ‘A Man’s A Man for a’ That’. It’s a satire, it’s a lament and finally it’s a prophecy, as Burns predicts ‘it’s coming yet for a that’, a time ‘when man to man the warld o’er shall brithers be for a that.’ It’s also a fantastic poem to read aloud. I heartily recommend that people learn the poem off by heart, just so they can belt out the poem’s fantastic final verse. Poetry has rarely been as warm-blooded and vigorous before or since.
This poem was suggested by Professor Gerard Carruthers, he says:
My own favourite Burns work is ‘A Poet’s Welcome to His Love-Begotten Daughter’ (or sometimes ‘his bastart wean’). The poem foregrounds the pride and joy of the narrator in his new-born illegitimate daughter. This narrator, clearly, is to be identified with Burns: his child may have been born ‘out of wedlock’, but no-one will make him feel ashamed. His child is life itself, a gift from God and no-one has the right to look down her, or her parents. Here is Burns most triumphantly the poet of Nature!
Professor Gerard Carruthers is the Francis Hutcheson Chair of Scottish Literature at Glasgow University.
James Fairbairn, president of the Burns Club of London ranks this poem as his favourite, especially when pronounced in the Falkirk way “Yae Fond Kiss”.
David Scott of the Duns Burns Club put forward this one. Although it is a song, not a poem, David prefers to hear it recited, particularly enjoying the third verse which was written for Jean Armour.
As well as getting high praise from David Scott, this poem was also chosen by Doctor Jennifer Orr and Professor Murray Pittock. Dr Orr told me
My favourite poem by Burns is undoubtedly ‘Tam o’ Shanter’ for its masterful narrative voice and a narrator whose tale is very much in the telling. The poem has it all: drama, superstition, satire, male bravado, humour. It is especially interesting to see the narrator getting distracted by his own tale! My favourite song by Burns has to be ‘A Man’s a Man for a’ That’, simply because of the Enlightenment sentiments of the poem – that every man has inherent worth, irrespective of fame, fortune and status in life. It is still very relevant today especially in a political culture where the rich and poor are increasingly divided.
Dr. Jennifer Orr is a Lecturer in Eighteenth Century Literature at Newcastle Univeristy, Her latest book Literary Networks and Dissenting Print Culture in Romantic-Period Ireland can be found here.
Professor Murray Pittock is the Bradley Chair of English Literature at Glasgow University, where the Centre for Robert Burns Studies is based.
What’s your favourite poem by Robert Burns? Make sure and let us know via facebook, twitter, post or email or give us a call and chew the fat with us about it.