Monday, January 24, 2011

Burns Night

O my Luve's like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve's like the melodie
That’s sweetly play'd in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.

~from A Red, Red Rose

January 25th is the birthday of Scotland's national bard, Robert Burns (25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796).

Burns, the son of a tenant farmer, is also known as Scotland's favorite son, and the Ploughman Poet. And just as the Scots have gone abroad and settled all over creation, love for Burns' poetry has followed like a faithful collie. Burns' lyrics were written mostly in the Scots language (or dialect, depending on which side of that argument you fall on), a language I'm particularly fond of having crowded my novels with plenty of Scotsmen and Scotswomen, and having no intention of swearing off that habit any time soon.

Around the world on January 25th, a celebration of Scotland's best known bard's life and works, called a Burns Supper, will take place. The first Burns Supper was held in Scotland in 1802. "The basic format starts with a general welcome and announcements, followed with the Selkirk Grace. After grace comes the piping and cutting of the haggis, where Burns' famous Address To a Haggis is read and the haggis is cut open. The event usually allows for people to start eating just after the haggis is presented. This is when the reading called the "immortal memory", an overview of Burns' life and work, is given. The event usually concludes with the singing of Auld Lang Syne." ~from Wiki
Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
                     Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
                    Wi' murd'ring pattle!
~ from To A Mouse, On turning her up in her Nest with the Plough

Burns died tragically young, but many of his poems, or phrases from them, have become universally known.
O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursel's as others see us
Nae man can tether time or tide

The best-laid schemes o' mice, and men
Gang aft agley

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
     And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
    And auld lang syne?

To read more about the man, visit the Official Robert Burns site.

Because Burns first published his poems in the late 1780s, I was able to work mention of him into a scene or two in Kindred, set in 1794. Here's a clip from the story, in which I've disguised the identity of a particular character with X, to avoid spoilers:

They ate with little conversation. Before X finished Ian lay back on the pillows, the scent of roses sweetly painful, but roused at the clink of dinnerware and took hold of X’s hand. “Leave it. Would ye like me to read to ye?”

Her face brightened. “Mr. Burns?”
Ian smiled flatly, but capitulated. X liked him to read the man’s romantical works, Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, with his faint accent ridiculously broadened. “I can manage a verse or twa. But first….”

X had set the tray by the door and was reaching for the volume.
[break for unrelated spoilerish stuff before they get to the reading]
Outside the day was fading. Ian lit a candle while X settled on the bed beside him.

“Aye, right.” Ian pitched his voice to mimic his mam’s lowland speech, and began the poem of the son who left the honest work to which his father had reared him, to seek an easy fortune. “My father was a farmer upon the Carrick border, O/And carefully he bred me in decency and order, O….”

In the middle of the fifth stanza, as the son left off his failed schemes and returned to work the soil—to plough and sow, and reap and mow—X interrupted him.

“Do you like being a farmer, Ian?” 

“Aye, lassie. I like it weel.” He’d answered flippantly, but hearing the words out of his mouth he knew them for truth. He stared at his hand, splayed on the page, noting new calluses from spade and axe and plow. Minding the slaves’ lighter steps coming in from the field that evening he said, “Today’s Saturday.”

“And tomorrow’s the Sabbath,” X said. “Though there’s no meeting for us to attend.”

“Aye, there is… if ye wouldn’t mind a bit of manure on your shoes.”

“You mean the Reynolds?”

He’d surprised her with the notion. But why not? He’d yet to tell John of what happened on the ridge, the night he followed the slaves. It was time he did so. “Would ye come with me tomorrow, to worship with our neighbors?”

The tiredness lifted from X’s face. “I’d like that, Ian. Yes.”

~ from Kindred, Copyright 2011 Lori Benton All Rights Reserved

And last but not least, a Burns poem not to be missed:
Ha! whaur ye gaun, ye crowling ferlie?
Your impudence protects you sairly:
I canna say but ye strunt rarely,
                  Owre gauze and lace;
Tho', faith, I fear ye dine but sparely
                  On sic a place
~ from To A Louse, On seeing One on a Lady's Bonnet in Church

photo credits: quill by neil conway; Scottish landscape by Shandchem; Trossachs bridge by kyahl. All photos used under creative common license.


  1. I loved reading this! Especially on the heels of reading Michael Phillips' Angel Harp, set in Scotland! (He uses the poetry of Burns and others too).

    Your book sounds intriguing- I look forward to checking it out!

  2. Ah, love your excerpt, Lori. And the Burns! I use To A Mouse near the beginning of my new series as it fits my heroine so well at first. Wish we could all take off for Scotland together! But I feel I've been there with Liz's latest HBMC:)

  3. Cheryl, thank you! Have you read Liz Curtis Higgs' Scottish books? They're wonderful! Her older series begins with A Thorn in my Heart, and her newest series begins with Here Burns My Candle.

  4. Laura, thank you! Liz's new book can't come soon enough. I saw your FB comments on HBMC, and I feel the same as you about Rob. Guess we'll have to wait and see. Not too much longer!

  5. Lori, I'm so glad I'm not the only one smitten:) He reminded me a bit of your Ian! I hope he has a happy ending in the sequel... Fun thinking of reading it together, so to speak:)

  6. I LOVED HBMC!!! Really great writing! Can't wait for part two!

  7. Laura and Cheryl. I checked on Amazon and it's even sooner than I thought. March 15th!

    Laura, I can't tell if he's meant to be the Boaz character, but I'm hoping so. At least, like you, that he has a happy ending.