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Eric: The Irish get parades, drink green beer, and have jokes about vomit on their special day. We Scots read poetry on ours. I think we come out ahead.

For those who have been wondering, I'm sick. I was completely exhausted on Sunday night from the trip back through the snow, I was a walking corpse of fatigue Monday, and then I fell asleep Monday night only to wake back up with stomach pain at 2 am, and stay awake the rest of the night. During the day, I began to develop chest congestion and head congestion, and even more fatigue. Writing was out of the question. I was lucky I could recognize the keyboard.

I fell asleep as soon as I got home, though I tried not to (I didn't even eat dinner). I slept through until a few minutes ago, and woke up more congested, more achy, and slightly fevered. I just put on a humidifier, threw a basic dinner into the microwave, and came here. Because there are things we need to talk about. It is January 25.

It is Burns Night.

Robert Burns is famous for any number of reasons, but somehow he didn't "click" with the American Educational System before college, at least when I was going through it. We all know he wrote Auld Lang Syne, but we didn't talk about his Romanticism, his class warfare, his unique voice in writing in the vernacular of the working classes of his native Scotland, not the poncey language of a Wordsworth or Keats. He lived through the American Revolution, and believed in the spirit of Revolution. He is revered in Europe, and Australia, and Russia. In fact, during the days of the Soviet Union, he was one of the few poets to be heavily studied, because he was felt to be a champion of Communist Ideals without Manifesto. Dogmatic though it may be, this was one of the few strong expressions of Western Civilization into Russia.

He drank too much. He fathered an inordinate number of children, including several bastards (or so they say). Burns itself is a dirt common name in Scotland (it means rivers or brooks, which seems funny to me, since it seems to mean 'Careless with Matches.') He was rude, he was perfectly willing to publish poetry castigating his enemies, and the semantic quality of much of his poetry seems to boil down to "My luv is faire an' tru/an mine is the heart that luvs/an she feels my luv too/but now she's dead and lying in the fucking ground and worms -- worms -- are eating her skin and eyes and CHRIST I need a drink." Which made him both an early Goth and early Emo. It's also felt he was among the first poets to use the pain within his soul to talk otherwise respectable women into having indiscriminate sex.

He was an archivist. Many of his poems -- especially those published in the volumes of his Scots Musical Museum -- were meant to clean up folk poems and folk songs and the native music of the Scottish people and put it into a form where it would never be forgotten. This has been successful: I can sing about nine Burns songs off the top of my head with their original music, up to and including the real tune of Auld Lang Syne. (There are two tunes associated with it. The one you know, and the good one. Just, you know, for the record.)

I'm Scottish American, and my name is Burns, and I love Burns Night. I don't usually have a Haggis and speak the traditional prayer -- the Selkirk Grace -- and I sure as Hell wouldn't put Haggis in my mouth already feeling sick. Still, as I look at microwaved meatloaf, now sitting and waiting for me, I stop and ponder, and at least think, if not say:

Some hae meat and canna eat, And some would eat that want it; But we hae meat, and we can eat, Sae let the Lord be thankit.


And as I eat, I consider Burns's poetry. The songs, the airs, the ode to a mouse whose home was destroyed by a plow. The satirical ode to a bug that crawls on a rich woman's head. Green growing rashes. To the weavers we gin going.

And I remember the words to a song everyone in the Western Hemisphere knows, despite the fact that not twelve of them actually know the lyrics. They are an invocation of good health, for good friends, for those we know now, and for those we have known who are not here today. And I think of all of you.

And I think of all of you as my friends, coming here and reading what I have to say. Which is nuts. I mean, it's totally batshit insane.

But still. You're my friends.

And so although I'm sick, I pour some Dalwhinnie in a glass (I should probably have Laphroig -- that'll kill any disease in me -- but it doesn't seem right), and I drink a toast to my food, and a toast to the beautiful lassies I know. I imagine the toast they make in response. And I eat, and I read, and think of friends and think of a man who died after only 37 years, his heart strained by backbreaking labor in his youth (not to mention all the alcohol). And though I'm coughing to much to sing out loud, inside, I hear the words sung:


And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp,
And surely I'll be mine,
And we'll tak a cup o kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pou'd the gowans fine,
But we've wander'd monie a weary fit,
Sin auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl'd in the burn
Frae morning sun till dine,
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
Sin auld lang syne.

And there's a hand my trusty fiere,
And gie's a hand o thine,
And we'll tak a right guid-willie waught,
For auld lang syne

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.


And though I'm not a religious man, I'm reminded of two prayers right now. The first, I'm told, is modern Wiccan, and they say it at the Renaissance Festival where once I worked, because that's where one says Modern Wiccan Prayers to middle Americans and not get yelled at:

Merry meet, Merry part, And merry meet again.


And the other? Though I'm no more Christian than I am Wiccan, there's only one thing left to say:

God bless you, and God bless Bobbie Burns.

Good night.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at January 25, 2005 10:50 PM

Comments

Comment from: Shaenon posted at January 26, 2005 4:16 AM

We've got green beer, vomit, AND better poets.

Comment from: Shadowydreamer posted at January 26, 2005 5:09 AM

I was born in the homeland, my early school years at a private school run by nuns.. and we were STILL taught Robbie was the second coming. ^_^

I may be in Canada now.. but happy Burns day Eric. :)

Comment from: cpip posted at January 26, 2005 8:34 AM

Sooo. Obvious question, I imagine: any relation?

Comment from: JackSlack posted at January 26, 2005 11:09 AM

Curiously enough, Scotland's special day (the 25th) falls roughly at the same time as Australia Day, on the 26th.

All this national celebration is too much!

Comment from: J.(Channing)Wells posted at January 26, 2005 12:50 PM

Technically, we Ulster Scots get July 12th for our special day, but it's a rather more ignominious anniversary, and I'm not sure I'd feel happy celebrating over it.

All this talk of Robert Burns inevitably recalls to me the Monty Python "Ewan McTeagle, Scottish Poet" sketch, but for the sake of common decency, I will refrain from posting large hunks of transcript. Yer welcome.

Comment from: tintinaus posted at January 26, 2005 6:51 PM

When reading this snark I was glad that I am always prepared and the liquor cabinet is close to my desk. Even though my ancestary is irish and I am a 6th generation Australian, one of the great things about living in a "muliti-cultural" society is I feel no shame for sharing with my fellows in any celebration they will allow me to be a part of.

So I sing the song Auld Lang Syne and raise my glass in toast to the Great Burns (and the not yet great Burns).

Stuff the fact it is only 10am, there is never a bad time to drink a toast of rememberence, fellowship and admiration.

Comment from: JSW posted at January 26, 2005 7:15 PM

I've never heard of this "real" version of Auld Lang Syne (what does that mean, anyway? I think that the "auld" means "old", but I can't make heads or tails of the rest.) Anyone know where I can find some sort of rendition of it?

Comment from: Paul A. posted at January 28, 2005 12:41 AM

(what does that mean, anyway? I think that the "auld" means "old", but I can't make heads or tails of the rest.)

"auld"="old"; "lang"="long"; "syne"="since"

Basically, it means "the good old days". Well, "the old days", anyway.

Comment from: siwangmu posted at January 28, 2005 3:42 PM

So! This entry was moving, enlightening and fascinating, but in the spirit of finding out what the hell the phrase "Auld Lang Syne" means, let's play the help-Amy-translate-the-rest-of-it game! (And you wonder why none of us know the lyrics)

And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp,

And surely I'll be mine, [either this means you/I are stopping the bottles with our mouths(ie just means we're drinking), or we are acting as our own barometers of when to stop drinking--my best guesses]

And we'll tak a cup o kindness yet, [pretty clear on its own]

For auld lang syne!

For auld lang syne, my dear,

For auld lang syne,

We'll tak a cup of kindness yet,

For auld lang syne!

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,

For auld lang syne,

We'll tak a cup of kindness yet,

For auld lang syne!

We twa hae run about the braes,

And pou'd the gowans fine,

But we've wander'd monie a weary fit,

Sin auld lang syne.

[Here's where it gets hard: My attempt reads

"We two have run about the god-only-knows(some kind of natural feature like fields or hills?),

and poured the (either another natural feature or some kind of alcohol?) fine,

but we've wandered many a weary fit (admittedly, my translation makes no sense here, as I don't have a clue how to wander a weary fit, much less monie of them, but it sounds like "spent wearying time on many occasions or for a long duration"),

sin auld lang syne--would this be sin as in without, as in life is dreary/weary without remembering the old times, or sin as in since as in we've had all these fits since the old times, except that if auld lang syne means old long since, that line would then contain the word since twice? Except that may not matter if the other since is part of a stock expression, in the same way that I could conceive of someone saying "Back in Way Back When" not because that's a literal expression but just because it would communicate their meaning clearly anyway. Yeah, I've lost track of my punctuation at this point, and this was just four lines. Aren't you terribly excited?]

We twa hae paidl'd in the burn

Frae morning sun till dine,

But seas between us braid hae roar'd

Sin auld lang syne.

[okay, the bit about the name Burns in the entry decodes the first line:

We two have paddled in the creek

from morning sun till (dine as in evening meal or would this be coming from the breakfast/dinner/supper tradition and therefore indicate midday?),

But seas between us (both? I can't see the connection in the words, but I pick both to make it make sense) have roared

Since the old days (okay, this line seems to support the sin as since reading)]

And there's a hand my trusty fiere,

And gie's a hand o thine,

And we'll tak a right guid-willie waught,

For auld lang syne

[fiere=friend? no idea.

I think the next line says "And give us your hand." As for taking a right guid-willie waught (does waught mean "knows?" My brain wants to sya so but I've no idea why), I'll have to appeal to Scottisher sources to give me insight there. Although the obvious guess for the overall meaning is "We'll take a drink," because duh.]

For auld lang syne, my dear,

For auld lang syne,

We'll tak a cup of kindness yet,

For auld lang syne.

If I could actually stand the taste of alcohol (I'm trying to learn... it's slow going), I'd tak a cup of kindness yet myself. Happy Burns Day to all!

And please, please correct my crapass translation efforts, because my braaain wants to knooow.

Comment from: AyrshireLass [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 27, 2007 3:23 PM

Hi.
I was a wee bit perturbed by the comments on the understanding of Auld Lang Syne (with an "s" sound and NEVER a "z" sound...)(lol)

It would be best for you all to go to the actual Robert Burns Webpage for a much better understanding of his poetry.

I was born in his hometown and now live in the states. I am also Scottish/American.

The official site for Robert Burns is:

http://www.robertburns.org

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