I had to dust off my pitifully neglected blog eventually, and what better occasion than the birthday of Scotland’s Bard, the original Makar himself, Rabbie Burns (note the ‘a’ in ‘Rabbie’, Americans).
So what does Burns mean to me? Well very little, if I’m being totally honest.
My Granddad on my Mum’s side liked to think of himself as something of a Burns ambassador, and with good reason. Not only did he share his first name and birthday, but he was also born and raised not too far from Alloway (alright it was Newton Mearns, 30-odd miles away, but who’s counting?) and possessed an impressive ability to memorise those earthy, enjoyable lines.
But I, like many modern Scots, was probably too dismissive of Burns. When you grow up in a small country like Scotland you tend to turn away from patriotic icons like Burns, simply because you can’t approach them objectively as an outsider. The story of Burns-the-romantic-hero (though not his actual writing) is drummed into you at school, his face adorns millions of shortbread tins and teacloths, and finally, he becomes just another marketing strategy to lure in the easy-to-please tourist. Which is terrible, really.
It wasn’t until I was at uni, studying literature, that I got a real insight into Burns’ importance not just to Scotland but the whole world. I remember a lecture by committed Burnsologist Ian Campbell in which he explained how Burns, through his profound influence on Wordsworth, was one of the main figures behind the birth of a whole new era of romantic literature that dominated the early 19th century, decades after his premature death. (Apparently Wordsworth was intensely jealous of the ease with which Burns wrote in the everyday language spoken by the people around him.)
But even that didn’t really win me over completely, and I suspect I’ll always be the same: a bit of an indifferent ignoramus.
Today I did join in the festivities though, by filming this video of a Burns flashmob in front of St Giles cathedral for my day job. Even if I don’t really buy into the Burns mythologising, it’s good to see how the effect of his words still bring people together through simple yet revolutionary messages like ‘A man’s a man for a’ that.’