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A Burns Night of Equals

January 25, 2014

As successive Westminster governments give up on Scotland, and therefore give up on Britain, the years are ticking down to when Scotland can be regarded not as an aggrieved partner in a failed relationship, but as a good neighbour.  Scotland will give as good as she gets.  Burns Night will be better than ever.

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Happy Birthday Robert Burns.

It doesn’t get any warmer and wiser than this, does it?

IS THERE FOR HONEST POVERTY

Is there for honest poverty
That hangs his head, an’ a’ that
The coward slave, we pass him by
We dare be poor for a’ that
For a’ that, an’ a’ that
Our toil’s obscure and a’ that
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp
The man’s the gowd for a’ that

What though on hamely fare we dine
Wear hoddin grey, an’ a’ that
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine
A man’s a man, for a’ that
For a’ that, an’ a’ that
Their tinsel show an’ a’ that
The honest man, though e’er sae poor
Is king o’ men for a’ that

Ye see yon birkie ca’d a lord
Wha struts an’ stares an’ a’ that
Tho’ hundreds worship at his word
He’s but a coof for a’ that
For a’ that, an’ a’ that
His ribband, star and a’ that
The man o’ independent mind
He looks an’ laughs at a’ that

A prince can mak’ a belted knight
A marquise, duke, an’ a’ that
But an honest man’s aboon his might
Gude faith, he maunna fa’ that
For a’ that an’ a’ that
Their dignities an’ a’ that
The pith o’ sense an’ pride o’ worth
Are higher rank that a’ that

Then let us pray that come it may
(as come it will for a’ that)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth
Shall bear the gree an’ a’ that
For a’ that an’ a’ that
It’s coming yet for a’ that
That man to man, the world o’er
Shall brithers be for a’ that

A simple recitation of these verses is more dignified and inspiring than any amount of sparkly pomp and circumstance. Agree?

Burns here constructs just about the most poignant, heartfelt , yet upbeat attack on the hereditary principle ever composed. But then Burns is one of the greatest republican poets of all time (although compare  Milton, Byron, Shelley etc. etc. etc.).

Tonight’s rituals associated with Robert Burns belong to both Scotland and humanity.  This is a compellingly persuasive poem about looking someone straight in the eye and shaking hands with them.  It’s an antidote to bowing and scraping, to standing nervously in the ante-chamber of a great man’s office waiting for an appointment, to all the clumsy detritus of encrusted deference that confers real honour on nobody. In this poem, the sheer tawdriness of inherited privilege is cheerfully blasted away by a chastening breeze of easy fraternity. This is a prophetic poem, in its own way as prophetic as any of Blake’s – one that looks to an imminent better world where we can just clasp one another as equals rather than fear one another as children of greater and lesser gods.

Burn’s night itself is proudly celebrated in Scotland, but also celebrated in England, Wales, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the USA and a host of other places besides.  It so happens therefore that perhaps the most globally successful example of ritualised commemoration to emerge from the islands of North West Europe is a celebration of (small “r”) republicanism and egalitarianism.  This is inspirational “ceremony”  at its very very best, ceremony that includes rather than excludes.

Ceremony that extends a hand, rather than a boot.

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2 Comments
  1. Reblogged this on conradbrunstrom and commented:

    Happy Biu

  2. Well said!
    I love that the ceremony is so inclusive. Having gone to my first one a couple years ago in Washington DC, I was thrilled at the welcome we non-Scottish attendees received. The only flack I got was from another American questioning the tartan scarf I chose to wear. Sigh…always one in the crowd.

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