A Night Out with Robert Burns: The Greatest Poems
Douglas Gibson, 2009 (2009)
Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
Night Out with Robert Burns: The Greatest Poems
(arranged by Andrew O'Hagan) aptly opens with
A Birl for Burns
by the great Irish poet Seamus Heaney, whose tribute includes: '
Leg-lifting, heartsome, lightsome Burns! / He overflowed the well-wrought urns / Like buttermilk from slurping churns, / Rich and unruly, / Or dancers flying, doing turns / At some wild hooley.
n his Introduction, Andrew O'Hagan rolls out for readers in words '
a motion picture
' of the operatic life of Robert Burns (1759-1796), explaining how one of the most celebrated poets of all time (Scotland's Shakespeare) died penniless at the age of thirty-seven, and speaking of the
that followed. O'Hagan tells us that Burns '
was a satirist of the first water
', who '
can seem to be universal
', and questions '
why is Burns so easy to market to the world?
e explains that there are two very different audiences for Burns's work - '
those who wonder about the extent of his sympathy for the French Revolution, and those who want a few bonnie words on a plate to put on their kitchen wall.
' This volume arose from a desire to mark the 250th anniversary of Burns's birth (January 25, 2009), with selected poems (each given fascinating context) classified into four categories: '
the lasses, the drinks, the immortals and the politics.
, everyone knows
A Red, Red Rose
, but there are many more (Burns had thirteen children by various mothers) including
A Poet's Welcome to His Love-Begotten Daughter; the First Instance that Entitled Him to the Venerable Appellation of Father
(which also includes
Auld Lang Syne
), while Khayyam spoke lyrically of a jug of wine, Burns prefers a stronger tipple: '
Fortune, if thou'll but gie me still / Hale breeks, a scone, an'
, / An' rowth o'
to rave at will, / Take a' the rest
, we find
Address to the Deil
An' now, auld Cloots, I ken ye're thinkan, / A certain Bardie's rantin, drinkin, / Some luckless hour will send him linkan, / To your black pit; / But faith! he'll turn a corner jinkan, / An' cheat you yet
' (a sentiment shared by all Burns fans!) And in
, we find the well known
To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough, November 1785
A Man's a Man for A' That
, amongst other gems like
(which O'Hagan dedicates to those lost in the war in Iraq) and which includes: '
O wae upon you, Men o' State, / That brethren rouse in deadly hate! / As ye make mony a fond heart mourn, / Sae may it on your heads return!
hether you find yourself alone on Burns Night (January 25th), or partying with a crowd of Scots, open up
A Night Out with Robert Burns
and let the '
' sing (with both sentiment and satire) through the air. As Heaney reminds us, '
And though his first tongue's going, gone, / And word lists now get added on. / ... / In Burns's rhymes they travel on / And won't be lost.
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