Poet and activist Robert Burns was born 256 years ago today. Here’s one of my favorite of his poems, set to music by the fab band Old Blind Dogs.
I am now quite obsessed with Robert Burns.
The other day I spent my lunch break sitting in a cemetery in Ravena, NY, reading aloud from A Night Out with Robert Burns: The Greatest Poems in a Scottish accent. (Well, I’m calling it a Scottish accent. Many would disagree.) It was fun. Really, really fun. This particular book is divided by subject matter: poems about women, drink, politics, etc. I read quite a few love poems and several about drinking. Then I read — for the first time in my life, I’m embarrassed to say — “Tam O’ Shanter.” What a riot!
I’m also reading Robert Crawford’s new biography of Burns, The Bard: Robert Burns, A Biography. It’s the first biography of Burns that I’ve read, so I can’t compare it to the many volumes that have come before, but the scholarship seems first-rate and the writing is compelling and fresh. It also doesn’t shy away from the political and religious underpinnings of Burns’ work, which I appreciate.
I’ve long been a fan of Old Blind Dogs, the Scottish traditional band. For a while, their lead singer was Jim Malcolm, a wonderful interpreter of the songs of Robert Burns. I just picked up one of his solo recordings, which I highly recommend. It includes his interpretation of “Tam O’ Shanter.”
Just today, I downloaded Eddi Reader’s album of Burns music, Sings The Songs Of Robert Burns:
Oh my. Oh my, oh my. What a voice. What an orchestral accompaniment. What a gorgeous album. Burns fan or not, you need this one in your collection.
Robby Burnsâ€™s Hat
Crusty snow beneath our boots
as we watch a limber young poet
scamper atop the McPherson Legacy.
Once settled between Robbyâ€™s legs,
he takes the beret — the same one
they used last year —
and balances it on top of Robbyâ€™s head.
The last time, it was up there a week before
a less young, but no less limber, poet
found the beret at the base of the Legacy
and rescued it from oblivion, restoring
the cap to its place of honor twelve months later.
And so it goes, year after year, in honor
of the man who started it all, and who
made the trail through the snow that we follow.