|Engraving of Robert Burns|
Burns himself was a fascinating character. Politically liberal and a patriotic Scotsman, Burns was opposed to the Act of Union and is reported to have supported the French Revolution; however, he was critical of the Jacobite risings, the Catholic absolutism of the House of Stuart being inimical to Burns' liberal tastes, and in 1795 he helped organise the Dumfries Volunteers, a militia formed to help protect the nation in the event of a French invasion. At the same time he wrote his poem, "Should Haughty Gaul Invasion Threat," in which he proclaims: "Be Britain still to Britain true, / Amang ourselves united; / For never but by British hands / Maun British wrangs be righted!" Burns' precise political views have long been debated and will likely continue to be a subject of debate; was he a closeted liberal republican, whose later apparent British nationalism was an act to avoid the attention of the authorities? Was he a firm supporter of the constitution, supportive of the French Revolution at first only to later balk at its descent into bloody tyranny?
|Sir Walter Scott, 1st Baronet;|
painted by Sir William Allan
Alas, Scotland's great poet was to be taken from the world too soon; he died at just 37 years of age, in 1796. His legacy lives on in his poetry. To celebrate his life and contributions to poetry, it seems only fitting I should conclude this post with a poem by Burns (I would try to compose a tribute myself, but alas I am hopelessly inept at writing anything but prose). After much indecision, I chose this one, probably my favourite Burns poem: Lament Of Mary, Queen Of Scots, On The Approach Of Spring.
"Now Nature hangs her mantle green
On every blooming tree,
And spreads her sheets o' daisies white
Out o'er the grassy lea ;
Now Phoebus cheers the crystal streams,
And glads the azure skies;
But nought can glad the weary wight
That fast in durance lies.
"Now laverocks wake the merry morn
|Mary, Queen of Scots, at age 13; during|
her time in France
The merle , in his noontide bow'r,
Makes woodland echoes ring;
The mavis wild wi' mony a note,
Sings drowsy day to rest:
In love and freedom they rejoice,
Wi' care nor thrall opprest.
"Now blooms the lily by the bank,
The primrose down the brae ;
The hawthorn's budding in the glen,
And milk-white is the slae :
The meanest hind in fair Scotland
May rove their sweets amang ;
But I, the Queen of a' Scotland,
Maun lie in prison strang .
"I was the Queen o' bonie France,
Where happy I hae been;
Fu' lightly raise I in the morn,
As blythe lay down at e'en :
And I'm the sov'reign of Scotland,
And mony a traitor there;
Yet here I lie in foreign bands,
And never-ending care.
"But as for thee, thou false woman,
My sister and my fae ,
Grim Vengeance yet shall whet a sword
That thro' thy soul shall gae ;
The weeping blood in woman's breast
Was never known to thee;
Nor th' balm that draps on wounds of woe
Frae woman's pitying e'e .
"My son! my son! may kinder stars
|Mary portrayed next to her son,|
King James VI and I
Upon thy fortune shine;
And may those pleasures gild thy reign,
That ne'er wad blink on mine!
God keep thee frae thy mother's faes ,
Or turn their hearts to thee:
And where thou meet'st thy mother's friend,
Remember him for me!
"O! soon, to me, may Summer suns
Nae mair light up the morn!
Nae mair to me the Autumn winds
Wave o'er the yellow corn?
And, in the narrow house of death,
Let Winter round me rave;
And the next flow'rs that deck the Spring ,
Bloom on my peaceful grave!"