Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Burns Week: Day 1

A few months ago, I found this tiny book of poems and songs by Robert Burns at my favorite antique shop:


The printing is part of a series from Little Leather Library Corporation, New York, and this copy is probably from the early 1920s. I picked it up for a friend because it was pretty, but since I knew nothing about Burns, I thought I should read through it first. By the end, I decided to keep it for myself. Selfish, yes. But I'd made a connection, and my friend didn't care either way. I've always had a difficult time reading anything poetical (my preferred adjective over poetic). The best I do is a little bit of Frost or Dickinson or Silverstein or Seuss. When I read Burns though, the themes and dialect and tone spoke to the mountain folk mentality that lies deep within me. He could just as well have been a good ol' boy from Appalachia as Scotland's national poet. I only learned he was so famous after I decided I loved him which I'm glad of because I wouldn't want to just love him because everyone else does. And guess what just so happens? Jonathan and I have a Scotland driving trip planned for this summer!

Providence and luck got together and followed me from the antique shop to trip planning to the rare books library where I volunteer. Turns out, one of their prized possessions is a collection of Rabbie's manuscripts, letters, chapbooks, pamphlets, you name it. I've started noticing Burns everywhere there. He's on book trucks and shelves and on people's desks and in display cases and in stacks waiting for protective covers and on the website for scanning digitally and on and on and on--it really is a sprawling collection, like this little leather copy of Tam o' Shanter with its tiny leather tie string:


Sometimes don't you wanna just do something in response to the nice things you find in the world? Don't you want to celebrate the universality of life in some tangible way that says, I see the connections that exist within the chaos, the pains and joys of life that bring commonality and therefore comfort? I do! That's why I'm spending the next seven days with Mr. Burns, up to January 25 (Burns' birthday) when Burns Night is traditionally celebrated.

Every day till then, I shall read something of Burns' and learn something new about him and post my findings and pictures here. Then on the night, there will be haggis (both the vegetarian variety and the stomachy kind) and whisky and music and readings and possibly at least one guy in a kilt. (Pictures to follow)

For today, I leave you with an excerpt:

Ah, Tam! Ah, Tam! thou'll get thy fairin!
In hell they'll roast thee like a herrin!
In vain thy Kate awaits thy coming!
Kate soon will be a woefu' woman!
Now, do they speedy utmost, Meg,
An win the key-stane of the brig;
There at them thou thy tail may toss,
A running stream they dare na cross.
Bet ere the key-stane she could make,
The fient a tail she had to shake!
For Nannie, far before the rest,
Hard upon noble Maggie prest,
And flew at Tam wi' furious ettle;
But little wist she Maggie's mettle--
Ae spring brought off her master hale,
But left behind her ain gray tail:
The carlin claught her by the rump,
And left poor Maggie scarce a stump.