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posted on Jan, 25 2004 @ 08:19 AM
Well a very happy and cheerful burns night to all the scots in the house

*raises a small malt and toasts to the legacy of the bard*

For those unsure what burns night is...

This most famous song of liberty and independence gives us an enduring image of Robert Burns. Itís the provocative and defiant Burns, who laughs in the face of the ruling classes and who openly claims that he, and his people, are as good, if not better, than any of them.

Itís a sentiment that has characterised the verses of many of Scotlandís best poets, from Blind Harryís tales of William Wallace to Hugh MacDiarmidís 20th Century rants. Itís the same sentiment that packs the punch in the Declaration of Arbroath: that although the Scots are poor and harried by more powerful neighbours, what they should always strive for is freedom and independence.

These are the types of images that make a bard a bard, a champion of the common people. But Burnsís own life isnít always consistent with his poetry, and in his time there were many different perspectives on Burns.

Early life
Robert Burns was born on January 25, 1759 in the village of Alloway near Ayr. He came from a relatively poor, tenant-farmer background, although he received a good education and read avidly as a youngster. It is during his years as a teenager and young man working on farms that he developed some of the passions that would colour the rest of his life - poetry, nature, women and drink.

In 1785 Burns met perhaps the most famous and long-suffering of his female companions, Jean Armour. The union was hotly contested by Jeanís father - until, that is, the poet received public acclaim. Burns, ever the romantic, planned to run away to Jamaica with his lover, but his plan was foiled eventually by the advent of his own fame in Scotland.

Poetry in motion
Fame, but not necessarily fortune, followed in the wake of Burnsís first publication: "Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect" (Kilmarnock Edition). The collection contains many of his best loved poems, including "The Cotterís Saturday Night", "To a Mouse" and "To a Louse".

Favourable reviews from the literati in Edinburgh drew him to the capital where another of the most enduring Burns myths was born: that of the ploughman poet. Burnsís poems complemented the growing literary taste for pastoral pleasures and the type of romanticism that would dominate the literary scene for the next century or so, and he learned to play on these notions to his own advantage.

Many, however, would contest the depiction of Burns as the "heaven- taught ploughman", an innocent whose poetic inspiration was pure and direct from the divine. Such accounts of Burns conveniently gloss over his high level of education, his familiarity with literary mores and his often radical political convictions.

A tale of two tongues
Burnsís poetry at this time chopped and changed between English and Scots and this perhaps reflected his own ambivalent feelings towards the Edinburgh bourgeoisie. It was on his return to farming near Dumfries in 1788 that he penned his masterpiece in the Scots vernacular, "Tam OíShanter" (1790). Around this time Burns was also contributing to the "The Scots Musical Museum" with immortal songs like "Auld Lang Syne" and "My Luve is Like a Red Red Rose".

In 1789 the poet became an Excise Officer, a fact that probably had many of his drinking partners choking on their ale and provided yet another of the contradictions that separated Burnsís life from his poetry. However, supporting his wife and family required funds, so Burns had to balance his increasingly radical political views with the practicalities of life. He remained an Excise Officer until his death, although he had enough humility to recognise the irony of his own situation in the poem "The Deíils Awaí Wií The Exciseman", in which the whole community rejoices as the Devil appears to claim the local Excise Officer as his own.

Never averse to verse
Burns was prolific in poet output throughout most of his life and could barely write a shopping a list or letter without putting it in verse.

In 1795 he sent his publisher "For aí that and aí that", a song which vocalised his support for the political radicalism which was beginning to infiltrate British society, especially through Thomas Paineís controversial work, "The Rights of Man".

Although these notions of equality and liberty were already sweeping through the western world in the light of the turmoil of both the French and American Revolutions, Burnsís poetry had always warmed to these ideals with a peculiarly Scottish lilt. After all, the rhetoric of freedom and equality had been prevalent in Scottish literature since the times of the Bruce and the Wallace. The Bard should always be seen in his national context: as the champion of the underdog in an underdog country.

And, we take this VERY seriously, so no mocking.

We celebrate the legacy with burns suppers, which involves a large haggis and plenty of alcohol *hic*, selected readings and general olden time entertainment

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