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Chat's and Book Reviews by Frank R. Shaw FSA Scot
Robert Burns - Selected Poems & Songs


Before a sold-out crowd at a recent Neil Diamond concert in Atlanta, the young man sitting behind me stood up, pounded on the back of my seat and screamed his loudest, "Neil Diamond, I love you!" After the very short one sentence conversation I had with him, he sat down and was a nice young man the rest of the evening. Yet, had I the privilege to listen to Robert Burns, I would probably have expressed the same sentiment. Can you imagine such an event where you and I were the guests of Robert Burns? I doubt anyone would have been successful in getting me to be quiet, except the usher who would have shown me out the door! I love Robert Burns, passionately! Almost as much as Sir Walter Scott. More than Robert Louis Stevenson. The jury is still out on Nigel Tranter.

Let me introduce you to a relatively new Burnsian friend of mine, Thomas Keith. We met on the Internet while bidding for a Burns family photograph. He won; I lost. I emailed him and asked if I could buy the Burns piece if he ever wanted to sell it. He replied he doubted he ever would. In the mail a few weeks later, I received several copies of the photograph suitable for framing. Thatís Thomas Keith! We have stayed in touch since then. I went to hear him speak at Emory University last summer when he was a speaker at the Burns World Federation Symposium.

Thomas Keith has just privately published the above titled book on Robert Burns. This little 196- page bedside companion is fast becoming a favorite of mine. There are several reasons but primarily it is the extensive translation in the right margin of the "auld Scotch" dialect Burns used. This is a great help to every Burns reader, old and new alike. Now, all of us, not just the Burnsian scholars, can read these poems and songs of Scotlandís Bard without a Scottish dictionary and, more importantly, understand them! Others have used this method in the past but not as extensively as Keith. Other authors sometimes translate the Scots words, usually found in the back of the book. Thus, one is constantly turning to the back of the book to find the translation of the "auld Scotch" words of Burns. For the new reader of Burns, no matter how well intended, people sometimes get tired of that exercise, hopelessly give up and return the Burns book to the library shelf where it is sentenced to life without parole. It is akin to watching a foreign film with subtitles at the bottom of the screen.

There are also other helpful aides for the reader. Keith included two pages of chronology on Burns from birth to death that will give the reader a quick glance and appreciation of the manís life that is celebrated the world over in a thousand places or more. Those two pages will send the reader in search of a more definitive book on Burnsí life. Another two pages of Scots words are found in the front of the book for ready reference. Then, the 111 poems and songs of Burns follow and can be recognized as what Graham Greene would called in his classic, "The Heart of the Matter". I want to thank Thomas for this little volume of poetry and songs that I will long cherish.

Among other treasures in the back of the book, you will find the nearly ten-page letter written by Burns to Dr. John Moore on 2nd August 1787. If you are not familiar with it, this is really a personal letter you will not want to miss. Another letter, this one from Sir Walter Scott to his son-in-law John Gibson Lockhart, tells of Sir Walterís meeting Burns forty years earlier when Scott was a lad of fifteen and Burns was in Edinburgh for the first time. Scott says he "would have given the world to know him". Wouldnít we all!

Iíd wager most of us can quote a line or two from Burns and may not even know we are doing so. For instance, there is "My love is like a red, red rose" or "Should old acquaintance be forgotten" or "My heart is in the highlands", just to name a few. Or, how many times have you used or heard some one use the phrase "manís inhumanity to man"? No wonder Ralph Waldo Emerson, in a speech about Rabbie Burns to the Boston Burns Club in 1859, could say: "every manís and boyís, and girlís head carries snatches of his songs, and can say them by heartÖ" However, even the most experienced Burns reader will tell you that not everything by Burns in this volume would get a "G" rating for the youngsters!

You may have read the following in an earlier article of mine, but it bears repeating for this review. I emailed Thomas Keith immediately after 9/11 with these words: "Can you imagine the outpouring of the pen of Burns about this happening?" He replied: "I believe Burns did write about September 11th, without knowing the specifics, in a poem called

Man Was Made To Mourn, A Dirge

Many and sharp the numírous ills
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves,
Regret, Remorse and Shame!
And Man, whose heavín-erected face,
The smiles of love adorn,
Manís inhumanity to Man
Makes countless thousands mourn.
(stanza 7)

Those who have wanted to read Burns but until now have stayed away because of the "auld Scotch" language can now turn to this book with appreciation because Keith endeavors to translate the Scottish dialect more so than other writers. The same goes for the Burnsian who "ploughs" through Burns with a Scots dictionary in hand.

Penned on the title page of my copy of this book dated 11/10/01 are these words: "To Susan and Frank, the bonnie lassie and the brave lad, in friendship and with gratitude. Your trusty friend, Thomas Keith".

Published by Caledonia Road Publishing in New York City, the book is discounted by Mr. Keith for all readers of The Family Tree at a cost of $15, plus $2 postage and handling. The book is identified as ISBN: 0-9713251-0-3. It can be purchased directly from

Thomas Keith
237 Eldridge Street, #24
New York, New York 10002

or by email at
tknyc@earthlink.net


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