Several weeks ago one of my colleagues asked me out of the blue if I would be going to a Robert Burns supper this month. I had never heard of such a thing and asked him what it was. He said he had never heard of Burns suppers either until he was invited to one last year. Apparently there is a tradition that on the birthday of the Scottish bard, which falls in late January, people gather to eat haggis, drink whiskey and read aloud poems by Robert Burns.
I was delighted by the idea. I am interested whenever people get together to read aloud old poetry. Events that create a convivial context for doing this are bound to appeal. I doubted I would be invited to one this year, or that I would be able to go if I were, but resolved to somehow mark the day. I first had to be brought up to speed on Robert Burns.
As with many great poets, Burns was already part my life in ways I hadn’t actively connected with his name. I had just sung some of his verses at midnight several weeks before with my mother, father, husband and children. My mother knew more of the words than any one else, but we all were able to come out with at least two lines: Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And auld lang syne!
That evening my husband found the words to Burns’ famous mouse poem on his blackberry. The poet is reflecting on having turned over a mouse’s nest with his plow and addresses these words to the mouse: But Mousie, thou art no thy lane, In proving foresight may be vain: the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men Gang aft agley, An’ lea’e us naught but grief and pain, For promis’d joy!
Of course I forgot all about Robert Burns and my resolve to remember his birthday until I was lying in bed this morning, home from work with “flu-like symptoms”. My husband tossed the paper on the foot of the bed before he went out to drive our son to school. There, on the editorial page was an article about Robert Burns suppers. Ah, so it’s today.
Of course I wished there were a volume of Robert Burns somewhere in our many, crowded and disorganized bookshelves. My great-grandmother Therese undoubtedly has one in her collection of poetry books, but they are neatly shelved in my childhood home, waiting to join me here. Never mind, we have the internet.
I went to Wikipedia first, to do my background reading, and then to a web site with all of Burns’ poems and songs. A life and a life’s work at your fingertips, without even getting out of bed! The alphabetical list of all the titles was like the descriptive insert that sometimes comes inside a box of chocolates. Each looked so inviting I didn’t know which to choose first. I dipped into the box of chocolates.
I read the famous poems first: To a Mouse, on Turning Her up in Her Nest with the Plough, To a Louse and Tam o’ Shanter. Then I found one very touching poem (published posthumously) that Burns addressed to his illegitimate baby daughter. Another was addressed to a toothache. I printed out the mouse poem in Scottish and in English translation. I had to have something on paper. I wished I had my great-grandmother’s book to leaf through.
Now it is evening and undoubtedly Burns suppers all over the place are in full swing. I got up to cook dinner for my family and then went back to bed to rest and finish my blog. I wasn’t up to a real Burns supper this year, complete with haggis and whiskey, but by writing here I feel included in the party. This blog is to the memory of Robert Burns and auld lang syne.