Robbie Burns' birthday is tomorrow. Around the world, the Burns suppers were celebrated on Friday night. Let's use the whole weekend to celebrate the man, I say! It's a weekend with something for everyone. For those of us who like to sing and recite poetry -- whether in sonnet or lyric, ballad or rap -- Burns is our man. Those who would fight for social justice and equality, take inspiration from his words. And those who just want to cuddle close to the person we love, here's the poetry that's set the mood for over two centuries.
So this weekend, let's feel for all the wee and slicket timorous beasties. Let's ponder how the best laid plans o' mice and men gang aft a-gley. Let's try to see ourselves as others see us. Let's acknowledge that that the finest hours that e'er we spend are spent among the lasses-o. Let's drink a cup of kindness yet for auld lang syne. Let's be thankit because we hae meat and we can eat. Let's celebrate the man of independent mind who looks and laughs at a' that. Let's keep our hearts in the highlands, a-chasing the deer. Let's cherish our loves -- the red red roses, newly sprung in June. And let's admit that, had we never lov'd sae kindly, and had we never lov'd sae blindly, and never met—or never parted -- we had ne'er been broken-hearted.
Yes, we certainly evoked the poetry at the Scottish Society of Ottawa's annual Burns Supper on Friday night. Stuart Jardine addressed the haggis. Last year, Stuart performed a one-man show of Burns and his poetry at the National Arts Centre, and he certainly brought his theatrical flair to the Address.
We ate well. Those who had not tried haggis before were known to ask for second helpings. The roast beef was tender, and there was plenty of refreshment.
John Reid gave a very erudite overview of the breadth and range of Burns' writings and emphasized how many of the political and social causes he championed still resonate in our day. In his toast to the lassies, Tim Powers, the evening's token Newfoundlander of Irish background, took a few swipes at the Scottish reputation for frugality. Lisa MacLeod, MPP, on behalf of the lassies, examined how we in our politically correct age should consider Burns' reputation with women in his time. What? Thirteen children by four different women? And yet, the women loved Burns because he truly loved them -- not just as sweethearts but as soul mates and companions in life's long pilgrimage on the road to being a better human being. He championed women, and he was well ahead of his time when he wrote:
While quacks of State must each produce his plan,
And even children lisp the Rights of Man;
Amid this mighty fuss just let me mention,
The Rights of Woman merit some attention.
Lisa MacLeod was both witty and subtle as she wove her way through the intricate arguments, but managed to fire a few broadside at Time Powers while she was at it.
Throughout the evening, we were entertained by David Barnes, who brought a stirring and almost-martial air to the evening with his renditions of high-spirited by Burns, such as "A Man's a Man For A' That," "Scots Wha Hae," and a hundred-year-old song in tribute to the great poet, "The Star o' Rabbie Burns." Frankly, I preferred David's vigorous version to the saccharine versions available elsewhere. It's a song that tries valiantly -- almost desperately -- to evoke misty eyes as we long for "the hameland." Hell, the least they could do with a song about Burns is give it some balls!
But the audience sang along in good spirit. We reaffirmed that the pith of sense and the pride of worth are higher rank than a' that. And we were all ready to lay the proud usurper low while tyrants fall at every blow. And we all linked hands at the end of the evening when David led us in two verses of "Auld Lang Syne" and we certainly shared in the cup of kindness that night.
Yes, fine songs they all were, and well performed, strummed out on the guitar like a brave bodhran. By the end of the evening we were all psyched up to take on proud Edward's army and send them homeward tae think again. But I like my Burns with a good dollop of warmth, joy and whimsy, and so here's Eddi Reader's take on one of his songs:
No one's better than Eddi Reader for capturing the warmth and joy, whimsy and romance of the Burns' repertoire. Thanks, Paula -- my red, red rose!