Wrapped Up In Books


Someone is singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ somewhere outside my window

Today is Robert Burns’ Day in Scotland. The national bard will be honoured with ceilidhs, haggis, whisky, and bagpipe playing. I’ll be going to a ceilidh in Ellon on Saturday, and I’ll be sure to document everything I can. This year is important because it marks the 250th anniversary of Burns’ birth.

burns

I went to church this morning (this time at St Machar’s Cathedral as King’s College Chapel really didn’t resonate with me – maybe I’ll write on that later) and the minister addressed the importance of the day. The Scottish Post Office issued special edition stamps for this occasion and apparently most sold out within 20 minutes (a shame, else I’d have bought some for my philatelist uncle). One stamp was the classic portrait of the poet while the other was a depiction of his poem To A Mouse. While there is debate about whether or not Burns defined himself as a religious man, there are definitely lessons to be learned within his poetry. He was adamant about the equality of all life and that we should treat not only each other as a gift, but animals, too. Below I’ve included To A Mouse (1785) for your perusal:

Wee, sleekit, cow’rin’, tim’rous beasie,
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!

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor earth-born companion,
An’ fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen-icker in a thrace
‘S a sma’ request:
I’ll get a blessin’ wi’ the lave,
And never miss ‘t!

Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin!
It’s silly wa’s the win’s are strewin’!
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
O’ foggage green!
An’ bleak December’s winds ensuin’,
Baith snell an’ keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare and waste.
An’ weary winter comin’ fast,
An’ cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out-thro’ thy cell.

That wee bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble
Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To those the winter’s sleety dribble,
An’ cranreuch cauld!

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain
For promis’d joy.

Still thou are blest compar’d w’ me!
The present only touchest thee:
But oh! I backward cast my e’e
On prospects drear!
An’ forward tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!

Certainly Burns was the shining star of Ayrshire, a county in Scotland an hour southwest of Glasgow. While I realise it’s now been a century since my maternal grandmother’s family came to Canada and settled in Hamilton (it’s actually the most Scottish city in Canada, I recently learned), I think that it will never depreciate importance to me that my family hails from Maybole, which is known as the unsung town in the tale of Rabbie Burns. Maybole, you see, is where Burns’ mother and father met; without it, there’d have been no Favourite Son of Scotland.

While one person has openly scoffed at me for claiming any relationship with the countries from which my family are derived (Northern Ireland [Bushmills] and Scotland [Maybole] on my mom’s side, Slovakia [Bratislava] on my dad’s), the main reason I acknowledge these places and visit them is to just understand a little better the struggle and impossibly difficult decision they made to abandon everything dear to them so they could make a better life for themselves and their children in Canada. My family has been in Canada for three generations on my mother’s side and just two on my dad’s; this is by no means extensive history and so it makes me glad that this year Scotland is opening its arms to the estimated 80 million Scottish descendents around the world to come back and see where their history began. If only it would offer me the same free tuition it affords its own citizens!

Map of Scotland, Maybole is highlighted.  A bit west of Ballycastle is Bushmills, UK.

Map of Scotland, Maybole is highlighted. A bit west of Ballycastle is Bushmills, UK.

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1 Comment so far
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My mother actually knows this poem and just rhymed it off to my on Skype. Bizarro.

Comment by bohemianvegan




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