Suppertime again. Fatten your haggis. Rattle your shortbread tins. Time to think again about the humanity and resonance of Robert Burns while looking askance at the cult that's grown up round him which debases his message. There's nothing more annoying than a roomful of rotarians pretending to like poetry and the universality of man.
As Hugh MacDiarmid said:
“The Burns Cult must be killed stone dead- and would be instantly if a single flash of the spirit of Burns were alive in Scotland…the whole raison d’etre of the Burns Club is to deny that Burns was Burns- and to make him instead acceptable to conventional standards that would have found in him their most powerful and persistent enemy"
According to him, the cult has..
"denied his spirit to honour his name.
It has denied his poetry to laud his amours.
It has preserved his furniture and repelled his message.”
My favourite Scottish poet, Willie Neill, gone to earth in Galloway, put it even better:
“Once a year, Robin, they will remember you
in a word or two beyond your actual name.
The fatuous speeches will scarcely encumber you
the maudlin tear, the exaggerated claim.
Who love what you love measure your true fame
in a kind of silence the foolish find too great.
They take your measure by their own puffed state.”
Anyway, where better than the Coach and Horses, where Burns drank and where Burns' own hero Robert Fergusson once drank, to go tonight and have a malt or two in memory of the man? Maybe see you there.
Lynn Wilson Says a Prayer for Robert Burns
In St Michael’s they are filming Burns.
The sun fires shafts of dust
as soundmen scuffle and static screams.
The Rev points cameras to
the all-important pew:
empty but Rabbie will be reconstituted later,
like a burger, from scrapings on the studio floor.
Dignitaries preen and groom,
but along the way, in light hurled through
deep green glass, a young girl sits alone,
her flame hair bent as if in prayer.
Beauty and bedlam:
a commemoration after all.