Monday, 24 January 2011

Happy Birthday, Robert Burns!

No Scottish romance party should be complete without mention of Scotland's national poet.

In fact, one reason I picked on this week for our party is because tonight is Burns Night, the anniversary the Bard's birth, marked across Scotland every 25th of January with the eating of haggis, piped in with all honours,  the reciting of Robert Burns' poetry, and all the fun and witty toasts that go with a Burns Supper.

Born in 1759 in the Ayrshire village of Alloway, the son of a tenant farmer, Robert Burns is an amazing Scottish phenomenon. Although most of his poetry was written in eighteenth century Scots, it has influenced generations and is loved far beyond his own country
Even I can claim a Burns influence in my naughty short story Witch of Alloway, which is loosely based on Burns' epic poem Tam o'Shanter :). In my story, though, the tavern-loving Tam is a homecoming rock musician, and taking the easy way out, I wrote it in English prose rather than Scots verse!

Somehow, Burns's words manage speak to every generation and every country.There is something universally uplifting about his egalitarian philosophy ("a man's a man for a' that") and his emotions as expressed so powerfully in his poetry, whether funny, bawdy, or moving.

Burns had a tempestuous love life, and no one who's read his poetry could doubt the depth of his feeling. He died while still a young man in his thirties, which may be one reason I find this poem so touching. It's spoken by an old lady to her husband of many years. ("Jo" was a contemporary word for "man" in the sense of husband or lover so the title could be translated as John Anderson, my Man... ).

John Anderson, My Jo by Robert Burns, 1789

John Anderson, my jo, John,
When we were first acquent;
Your locks were like the raven,
Your bonie brow was brent;
But now your brow is beld, John,
Your locks are like the snaw;
But blessings on your frosty pow,
John Anderson, my jo.

John Anderson, my jo, John,
We clamb the hill thegither;
And mony a cantie day, John,
We've had wi' ane anither:
Now we maun totter down, John,
And hand in hand we'll go,
And sleep thegither at the foot,
John Anderson, my jo. 

Isn't that a lovely way of looking at growing old together? I can almost welcome tottering down the hill of life now, hand in hand with my own husband, providing we get to sleep together at the bottom.

Do you know Robert Burns's poetry? Do you have a favourite? Can you understand any of it? :)



  1. That's a lovely poem, and one I hadn't read before.

    Of course I understand it. It's no trickier than broad Yorkshire, or Geordie.

  2. I tried to read Burns when I was a teenage...I stumbled through it and didn't understand half of it. 'Fraid I'm not very good with Geordie or Yorkshire either....hehe!!

    who is a Londoner in Germany

  3. This is the first poem that I read by him. While I couldn't understand every line, I was able to get the point.

  4. Isn't it, Stevie? Good for you! I used to be pretty sure I could cope with any accent, until I heard two Geordie builders calling to each other outside a motorway cafe, and I couldn't understand a word. And here I was a huge fan of When the Boat Comes In too :).

    Valerie, some of the words are archaic and not even understood by Scots, so don;t feel bad :). If you want a translation of any words, I'll do my best!

    Well done, Cindy! :). Hope you liked it.