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The Word on the Week

Robert Burns

This being the birthday of the Scottish National Bard it is fitting to reflect on some of his qualities which have immortalised his work in many countries. Two centuries since his death have not lessened the relevance of his “love poems” or his stirring lines on behalf of democracy.

“My love is like a red, red rose” is a prime example of the first and “The rank is but the guinea’s stamp, the man’s the gowd (gold) for a’ that” gives a flavour of his democratic views.

Burns had a hard life as a farm labourer, always on the edge of poverty and made worse by his frequent love affairs. These earned him the ire of many fathers reaching a climax with him fleeing to the West Indies. However he had published his first book of poems and on hearing of their success soon returned to Scotland and to acceptance with the literary classes of the day.

The “Burns Night” annual celebration on the 25th January has its own “liturgy”. The haggis is ceremoniously preceded by a piper and laid on the top table. Then the “Selkirk Grace” is said and the “Address to the Haggis” recited. After the meal there are various toasts culminating in the “immortal memory”. This is a sort of secular sermon extolling Burn’s poetry and the evening concludes with the singing of “Auld Lang Syne” .

It is perhaps in “The Cotters Saturday Night” that Burns reached the heights of poetic grandeur capturing the old Cotter (small farmer) at his fireside weary after his week’s work listening to the tales of his young folk as they call in from their week’s work. They make room for a neighbour’s son who is attracted to their eldest daughter and all eat a simple meal of porridge, with milk from the cow who is chewing her cud beyond the partition.

After the meal they sing a Psalm and the father opens the Bible, which he inherited from his father. He reads confidently from both Testaments recognising how the second person of the trinity, Jesus Christ’s “guiltless blood for guilty man was shed” and how His followers took the message to many lands including his beloved Scotia. The evening concludes with the older ones departing to their several homes and the Cotter and his wife getting down to pray that the Lord would provide for them, “But, chiefly, that in their hearts with Grace Devine preside”.

Or as St Paul put it a little more fully but with the same burning desire for his loved one’s salvation, “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Ephesians Chapter 3 verses 17-19.