AN IMMORTAL MEMORY

 When Robert Burns was walking the streets of ------------------ admiring the lovely views on that summer day of 1787 I wonder if he could possibly have imagined that more than over two hundred years latter men, women and children of ---------------------- would be coming together to sing those beautiful songs he composed with so much feeling and to hear again the many truths so skilfully entwined in his verses. I pose these questions because just nine short years latter, when our Bard lay desperately ill in his home in Dumfries, and attending to his needs were his wife Jean and the daughter of his superior in the Excise Jessie Lewars there had been some talk of what the Bard had achieved in his life, and Robert turned to Jean and said “Don’t be afraid I’ll be more respected a hundred years after I am dead than I am at present” These were prophetic words indeed coming from a man who knew that death was not too far away. A man who during his short lifetime had received the honour of Freeman from six Scottish Royal Burghs. A man who had been made an Honorary member of “The Royal Company of Archers” in Edinburgh. A man who had heard the Grand Master Mason of Scotland proclaim him as “Scotland’s National Bard” A few short days later on the 25th of July 1796 over ten thousand mourners watched as the body of Scotland’s National Bard was interred with military honours in the North east corner of St. Micheal’s Kirk – yard. During his short lifetime Robert Burns was a controversial figure---challenging the establishment on some of its most sacred taboos---and wining most of the arguments---there are no poets---no authors---no songwriters in all of this world who have had their names---characters---and their writings scrutinised---analysed---and vandalised such has been done to the name ---character---and works of Robert Burns. Never did such scrutiny result in such a mass of varied and contradictory pictures. The Bard’s own writings---the writings of those people who lived with him and knew him best---give us a clear and concise picture of the man---his virtues and his failings---his strengths and his weaknesses. I remember passing a Church some years ago and on the notice board there was a poster and its message said---“Two prisoners looked out through the bars---one saw the mud---the other saw the stars”. O that those many illustrious writers would content themselves with the gems and the pearls of wisdom in the Bard’s writings---and leave the mud where it belongs. Sir Walter Scott is on record saying that one verse of the love song “Ay fond kiss” is worth a thousand romances---while the poet Wordsworth on hearing of the death of the poet wrote “I mourned with thousands---but as one more deeply grieved ---for he was gone---whose light I hailed when first it shone---and showed my youth how verse may build a Princely throne---on humble truth. The humble truth was first seen by Burns in Alloway---where he would see his farther come home from his toil in the fields---and watch his mother place an evening meal on the table---his father would bring down the Holy book---chose a text---and say to those present---“Let us worship God”. From scenes such as this the young Burns would learn the tenets of Christianity---and be impressed by the sincere piety of his father---while at other time be enthralled by hearing his mother singing the old Scottish ballads---or hear her speaking of the many Ayrshire superstitions to her friends. From a very early age Burns and his sisters and brothers would be required to help in the fields or in the barns---and at the tender age of fifteen Robert was the chief labourer on his father’s farm---working from first light in the morning till darkness brought his toil to and end. Butcher meat was a stranger in the household and the family lived the life of hermits. In these days it was custom at harvest time to ask neighbours and their children to help in the harvest field---and one autumn the young Nellie Kilpatrick helped in the fields with Burns. Nellie was the first girl to inspire Burns to write a love song and---“My Handsome Nell”---has that place of honour. It was from Nellie’s father---a local blacksmith--- that Burns borrowed “The History of William Wallace”---which he said “Poured a Scottish prejudice into my veins which will boil there till the floodgates of life shut in eternal rest” More---much more than his patriotism was to boil in his veins—his love of nature---his revulsion of bigotry and hypocrisy---his love of humanity---and his love of the lassies. These were the emotions which were to inspire him to write his songs and his verses---his was the genius which made the words of these songs and poems express the innermost thoughts and desires of his less articulate fellowman. Today we hear much criticism of our educational system---and little has changed in these two hundred years and more---Burns writes

 “A set o’ dull conceited hashes
Confuse their brains in College classes
The gang in stirks---and come out asses
Plain truth to speak
And syne they think tae climb Parnassus
By dint o’ Greek
Gie me a spark o’ natures fire
That’s a’ the learnin I desire
Then though I drudge through dub and mire
At pleugh or cert
My muse---Though humble in attire
May touch the hert”

And touching the hearts of his fellow man and woman was one of the Bard’s greatest gifts---today---and it has always been---we find folks complaining about some aspect of their society---and so it was in the eighteenth century---Burns speaks on a subject as relevant today as it was when he wrote it.

 “For you---Young potentate of Wales
I tell your highness fairly
Down pleasures stream---wi’ swelling sails
I’m tauld ye’re driving rarely
But someday you may gnaw your nails
An’ curse your folly sairly
That e’er ye brak Dians’s pales
Or rattle dice wi’ Cherlie
By night or day.”

 Laughter can bring the haughtiest individual down to earth and Burns used laughter for this purpose---as well as to amuse himself. His epitaphs and epigrams come straight to the point.

 “Here li Willie Michie’s banes
O Satan when ye tak him
Gi’e him the schoolin’ o’ your weans
For clever de’ils he’ll mak them”

 Lament him Mauchline husband’s a’
He often did assist ye
For had ye stay’d hale weeks awa’
Your wives they ne’er had miss’d ye

 Ye Mauchline bairns as on ye pass
Tae school in bands the gither
O tread ye lightly on his grass
Perhaps he was your faither”

 The Bard made many friends among the aristocracy and the Clergy both in Ayrshire and further afield. In one of his letters to the Rev. John Mc Math of Tarbolton in Ayrshire Burns expresses his opinion of those profligates who brought the Church they represented into disrepute.

 “God knows I’m no the thing I should be
Nor am I even the thing I could be
But twenty times I rather would be
An atheist clean
Than under Gospel colours hid be
Just for a screen”

 Here the Bard is speaking the thoughts of those men and women around him---who watched as he did---the hypocritical and bigoted hierarchy of the Church of Scotland preaching from pulpits about the active evil deity called Satan---Hellfire and brimstone---damnation---no mention of a God of love---no message of hope.

 “But I gae mad at their grimaces
Their sighing---cantin’---grace proud faces
Their three mile prayers—and half mile graces
Their raxin’ consciences
Whase greed—revenge---and pride disgraces
Whaur than their nonsence”

Different from today---when we can express our opinions on most subjects without fear of persecution---when Burns was alive it took great courage to criticise those in power---be it in the State or Church. Yet Burns spoke openly of the cruelty of the unthinking aristocracy---of the behaviour of Royalty---the hypocrisy in the Church---and distress caused by absent landlords. In Mauchline there lived an elder of the Church named William Fisher—Burns and all the people around Mauchline knew Willie for what he was---a bigot---a hypocrite---an elder who stole money from the collection plate---a drunkard---and womaniser. These were only a few of his failings and to the delight of the inhabitants of Mauchline Burns attacked this reprobate in what is perhaps the bitterest satire ever written. The Bard depicts Willie Fisher speaking to God in prayer---

 “O lord, yestreen ye ken, wi’ Meg
Thy pardon I sincerely beg
O may it ne’er be a living plague
To my dishonour
An’ I’ll never lift a lawless leg
Again upon her
Besides I further maun avow
Wi’ Lizzies lass, three times I trow
But Lord that Friday I was fu’
When I cam near her
Or else thou kens they servant true
Wad ne’er hae steered her”

 Willie Fisher died in a snow filled ditch in a drunken stupor. Burns knew only too well the many contradictions to be found in the best of men---he knew man was capable of love one minute and gross cruelty the next---

 “And man whose heaven erected face the smiles of love adorn,
Mans inhumanity to man---makes countless thousands mourn”
“See yon poor o’er laboured wight, so abject mean and vile
Who begs a brother of the earth to give him leave to toil
And see his lordly fellow worm---his poor petition spurn
Unmindful though a weeping wife and helpless offspring mourn”


Burns knew there were scoundrels as well as good men among the farm-workers around him---he also knew that within the Clergy and aristocracy there were men of honour and integrity as well as rouges---and in many of his poems we hear his philosophy on this subject.

 “Then gently scan your brother man, still gentler sister woman
For though they go akennin’ wrang, to step aside is human”
“Its no’ in titles nor in rank,---its  no’in wealth like London banks
To purchase peace and rest
Its no’ in making muckle mair: its no’ in books in lear,
To make us truly blest:
If happiness hae not her seat, and centre in the breast,
We may be wise, or rich, or great, but never can be blest
Nae treasures---nor pleasures, could make us happy lang
The heart ay’s the party ay, the makes us right or wrang”

 No one who reads these poems of Robert Burns can fail to see that he wrote from the heart---to capture the hearts of his fellow man. And yet---while taking nothing away from the beauty or the philosophy of his verse---it is as a writer of song that his star shines brightest and not only for songs that he alone was responsible, but for the heritage of song which had been sung in the bothy's of Scotland throughout the ages, those songs which had been handed down from father to son, songs passed on from a fathers mouth to a son's ear, and many of these songs were crude and course, unfit to be heard by genteel ears. Burns took these songs, listened to their traditional melodies, changed the words to his own standards, and gave to Scotland, and throughout the world, a heritage of song for which any nation would be justifiably be proud. If we examine these songs, we will find that they touch upon the emotions known to men and women from birth to death, "My love is like a red red rose" we have awakening love, and in "O whistle and I'll come to ye my lad" we have love in youth, love in marriage comes with "I hae a wifie O' my ain" while love regretful is expressed in "Ae fond kiss". The feelings of patriotism are served with "Scots wha hae" and a merry band of the lads can sing "We are na fu--- were no that fu" with gusto, while all men who dream of a better world can join with Burns and sing---

 "Then let us pray, that come it may, as come it will for a' that"

Robert Burns the song writer is immortal.

Yes ladies and gentlemen---Robert Burns knew that he would be remembered a hundred years after his death---for his songs and his verse forever. It was the Border poet James Thomson who wrote that wonderful tribute to Robert Burns in the form of his song “The Star o’ Rabbie Burns” That star was lit in the skies over Scotland some two hundred years ago---and today shines brighter. He left to the people of Scotland a heritage of song and verse second to none in the folklore of any other nation---he can stand proudly shoulder to shoulder with his heroes Wallace and Bruce---for if these two heroes of Scotland hammered us Scots into a nation---then Robert Burns reminded us that we are a nation---with a language and customs of our own---when we were in danger of forgetting it. Long before the marvels of modern communications---long before this wonderful age of science and technology---Robert Burns put a girdle of friendship around the world with a single song--- “Auld lang syne”---his only instruments being the hearts and tongues of the common man. Let Robert Burns be remembered for reiterating the message of the man who died not two hundred years ago---but ten times two hundred years ago---when his message of hope throughout the world

 “That man to man the world ower---wid brothers be for a’ that”

 Please be upstanding --------------