Rabbie Burns – a man who touched hearts

Robert BurnsAs we approach another year of Scottish events, we come again to that beloved festival celebrating Scotland’s Poet, Rabbie Burns. Last year we gave you an overview of his life and works, explaining that, despite his tragically early death, the body of writing he left behind has become a great treasury and legacy for Scottish people, and so his birthday is celebrated even to this day.

This year however, we thought we would broaden our horizons a little – for not only is the life of Robert Burns celebrated at home with suppers, recitations and music – but also in public, and worldwide!

Read about St. Andrew

Robert Burns was a man of deep passions; his love for humanity and concern with social reform and humanitarianism touched the hearts of people worldwide, and he is still held in memory as not only a great poet of Scotland, but also as a great poet and philosopher of the human condition.

His birthday is mainly celebrated in Scotland, or among the Scottish diaspora prevalent in Australia, Canada and the United States, however he is remembered in other ways too; other than Queen Victoria and Christopher Columbus he has the most statues dedicated to him than any other non-religious figure for example, and his version of the folk song “Auld Lang Syne” is one of the most recognisable songs ever written.

Dumfries Statue

From inspiring Abraham Lincoln in his fight against slavery, to being adopted by the Chinese resistance fighters of WWII, to entertaining 21st century astronauts who took a miniature book of Burns’ verse aboard a 2010 mission, his work has echoed throughout the ages, and remains as touching and relevant today as when it was freshly penned by the educated farmer from Ayrshire.

This poem, one of his most famous, was used during the opening ceremonies of the Scottish Parliament, and is meant as a reminder that wealth or social standing (or lack thereof) should not be the yardstick by which a person’s worth is determined;

 

A Man’s A Man For A’ That

Is there for honest Poverty

That hings his head, an’ a’ that;

The coward slave-we pass him by,

We dare be poor for a’ that!

For a’ that, an’ a’ that.

Our toils obscure an’ a’ that,

The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,

The Man’s the gowd for a’ that.

What though on hamely fare we dine,

Wear hoddin grey, an’ a that;

Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;

A Man’s a Man for a’ that:

For a’ that, and a’ that,

Their tinsel show, an’ a’ that;

The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,

Is king o’ men for a’ that.

Ye see yon birkie, ca’d a lord,

Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that;

Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,

He’s but a coof for a’ that:

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,

His ribband, star, an’ a’ that:

The man o’ independent mind

He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.

A prince can mak a belted knight,

A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that;

But an honest man’s abon his might,

Gude faith, he maunna fa’ that!

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,

Their dignities an’ a’ that;

The pith o’ sense, an’ pride o’ worth,

Are higher rank than a’ that.

Then let us pray that come it may,

(As come it will for a’ that,)

That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,

Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,

It’s coming yet for a’ that,

That Man to Man, the world o’er,

Shall brothers be for a’ that.

Burns has also given his name to a special accolade for humanitarianism, awarded annually on Burns Night by the county of South Ayrshire, his birthplace. The ceremony includes a Burns supper, recitation and Scottish music as well as announcing the winner of the award.

Traditional 5 Yard KiltTraditional suppers of the sort most usually celebrated at home are now becoming popular in restaurants and hotels also, especially abroad amongst dedicated Burns groups or other social clubs with a link to Scotland in general or humanitarianism in particular. Attending one of these can be a great opportunity to hear Scots dialect poetry recited natively if you aren’t familiar with the musical tones of the language of lowland Scotland. Some of these events have grown so much they now include concerts, speeches, traditional story-telling, dancing and more – and most are aimed at providing a welcoming family environment to encourage children to learn about this important man and the wonderful country he came from.

Whatever you decide to do this Burns Night, recall also that traditional Scottish clothing is to be expected. Men in kilts are a welcome sight at any time, but especially on this particularly Scottish of evenings, when you may be asked to quote a few lines over dinner – the Selkirk Blessing is useful and easy to remember – or share a dram with a fellow countryman!

Learn more about different kilt outfit styles

We look forward to your comments as always, perhaps you’ve helped to plan a public celebration for Robert Burns, or perhaps you have a strong tradition of your own in recognising his works privately – whatever the method what remains important is the fact that for over 200 years Scots worldwide have remembered and respected the tenets by which this creative and forward thinking man lived and died.

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