Posts Tagged ‘Burns’

A red, red rose

Oh, my luve’s like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June :
Oh, my luve’s like a melodie
That’s sweetly played in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I ;
And I will luve thee still my dear
Till a’ the seas gang dry.

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun :
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands of life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only luve !
And fare thee weel a while !
And I will come again, my luve,
Though it were ten thousand mile.

Robert Burns 1793

This song was composed by Burns as an improvement on a street ballad, which is said to have been written by a Lieutenant Hinches as a farewell to his sweetheart, when on the eve of parting.


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While I think of it

I have a 19thC edition of Burns’ writing ; what makes it interesting is that it contains numerous letters of his, various commentaries by those who knew him, and also a short biography by his brother, Gilbert.

One day, word reached Burns that a French ship, docked in Ayr, was carrying a cannon.  The ship was bound for Calais ; so a gun on board was suspicious because the British were concerned to prevent any weaponry reaching the revolutionaries in France.

Without further ado, Burns grabbed his cutlass and stormed aboard the ship in fine melodramatic style.  Crying words such as, “Surrender or die!” he took the bemused crew completely by surprise ; he arrested the captain and, indeed, arrested the ship.

He then had the cannon crated.  And on the crate he wrote the words, “To the revolutionaries of France, from RB.”  He then let the ship free.

Burns knew well that the ship had to report to British Customs and Excise in Dover before it would be allowed to proceed to Calais (I assume there was a kind of blockade on) .  He knew therefore that his merry jape would be discovered.

And it was, of course.  But the authorities were lenient ; all Burns received was a rollicking. , and he didn’t even lose his job.

I quote this story from memory.

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Robert Burns was ever something of a mystery to me.  Then I chanced across an 1874 edition of his works.  What attracted me to this copy was the signature on the flyleaf, saying simply, ‘Bessie Seago Jan 1st 1898′ in a thick black pen and with a flourishing underline.  I have often wondered who she was and who presented her with the book – and what enjoyment she might have got from it.

What I found as I delved deeper was a particularly valuable fifty-page Biographical Sketch and its thirty-page Appendix.  And, as if that was not enough information about the bard, it has 175 pages of his Correspondence in the back.  Bessie Seago’s book is a gem.

My only purposeful prior acquaintance with Burns arose from my being obliged to learn and recite Bruce’s Address before Bannockburn ; an event which marked almost the first and last sign of interest my parents showed in my education.  But it is a fine poem.  Apart from that, I knew only scraps picked up in skimming through a slim volume and in casual conversations with friends.  By the time I came across Bessie’s copy, my impression of Burns was that here we had an honest son of the soil, hardly educated and probably a dangerous revolutionary ; almost certainly infected with those Enlightenment values so pathetically enshrined in pious hopes of an atheistic kind.

Until I opened Bessie’s book, I never suspected Burns the well-educated, well-read, somewhat melancholy son of wise but poor parents.  Of Burns the Exciseman I had no notion ; nor of Burns who rejected the opportunity to be a lawyer.  And, of Burns who came so very close to emigrating to Canada, I knew nothing.  Likewise I was ignorant of his connections in high society and of his masonic interests.

Here is the poem that introduced me to Burns when I was nine or ten years old.  It was a tiny seed that fell on the stony ground of my mind ; and there it lay until nigh five decades had passed – and then Bessie Seago came along and threw a spadeful of manure on it.  It has borne its fruit.

Bruce’s address to his army at Bannockburn

Scots, wha hae wi’ Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led,
Welcome to your gory bed
Or to victorie!

Now’s the day, and now’s the hour:
See the front o’ battle lour,
See approach proud Edward’s power
Chains and slaverie!

Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha can fill a coward’s grave?
Wha sae base as be a slave?
Let him turn, and flee!

Wha for Scotland’s King and Law
Freedom’s sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand, or freeman fa’,
Let him follow me!

By Oppression’s woes and pains,
By your sons in servile chains,
We will drain our dearest veins
But they shall be free!

Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
LIBERTY’S in every blow!-
Let us do or die!

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