Last week I had the privilege
of introducing you to Stephen Hammock, a young man who is working on his
doctorate at England’s Oxford University. Stephen is an engaging individual
with a great future ahead of him, and it has been a joy getting to know him
while attending monthly meetings at our Burns Club of Atlanta and through
email since he moved to study abroad. There are many good reasons to like
Stephen and, suffice it to say, he is a gentleman and a scholar and will
succeed at whatever field of work he chooses after his days at Oxford have
been completed two years from now.
One of his outstanding features is his love of Robert Burns as most young
people today are not so inclined. I look forward to more meetings with him,
sharing emails, and enjoying conversations as we both journey down the
“Burnsian Path” in the years ahead.
Before leaving for Oxford last fall, he told a brief story at one of our
Burns Club meetings during the introduction of members and their guests and
also read a poem he had written. I was impressed with both and later asked
him to share them with me in order for me to share them with our readers.
Here is the story and the poem for your enjoyment. (FRS: 4.22.13)
On Finding A Battered Copy
of Burns’ Poems…
Stephen at Cross College, Oxford
Stephen A. Hammock, RPA
Institute of Archaeology
St. Cross College
University of Oxford
St. Giles, Oxford OX1 3LZ
“I was attending New York
University (NYU) as an undergraduate studying literature and languages, and
was walking back to my room one night about dusk when I saw a book on the
sidewalk next to Grace Church - a truly beautiful church on Broadway in the
eastern part of Greenwich Village. I walked over and picked it up, and was
excited to see a battered, early twentieth century edition of Burns' poems.
Now, I was raised on Burns from the time I was a child, since my mother had
always been a great lover of literature and poetry, and especially of Burns,
and to say that I was overjoyed and that my heart lifted that night as I
stood there on the sidewalk would be an understatement. Mother had more than
passed her passion for poetry on to me, and I revere no lyric poet as high
as I do Burns. Homer excels all others in epic poetry, Dante in
ecclesiastical verse, and Shakespeare in dramatic verse. But Burns eclipses
them all by far in lyric poetry.
When I returned to my room and had leafed through the volume for a while, I
was still so overjoyed that I was inspired to write this poem, which I
completed the following day. Some time passed, and around 1995 I attended
the Stone Mountain Highland Games in Atlanta and struck up a conversation
with Mr. and Mrs. Tommy Warren at tent of the Burns Club of Atlanta. He
invited me to attend a Burns Club meeting as his guest, and I eagerly
accepted with the intention of reading my poem at the meeting.
But when Mr. Warren introduced me at the meeting and said I had a poem to
read, I was just too shy to do so. It took me another degree, and more than
a decade before I made my way back to the Burns Club of Atlanta. This time
Dr. James Flannery, with whom I had been corresponding about the
Scots-Irish, the topic of my M.A. thesis, invited me and again I accepted. I
knew immediately that I could not miss another opportunity to gather with
like-minded lovers of all things Burnsian, and when asked if I would be
interested in joining the club, I knew the answer was yes. I also knew what
I would read at my induction!
This time I did read the poem, and events that occurred in New York City in
February 1992 at long last saw fruition when I was inducted as an official
member of the Burns Club of Atlanta twenty years later in September 2012.
Here is the poem inspired by finding that volume of poems by Robert Burns -
"By far my elder Brother in the muse."
On Finding A Battered Copy of
Burns’ Poems Next to Grace Church at the Corner of Ninth and Broadway in New
York City on the Evening of February 10, 1992
Three cheers let fly for Bobbie Burns,
The Best of a’ the Bardies –
Three cheers ‘til a’ mankind relearns
How Love is shown;
It ain’t through bein’ me-concerned
Or livin’ lone –
But by smilin’ eyes and honesty
We hit the mark;
We live to love and with simplicity
Love lives in day or dark!
So Bobbie might say, and say it well
In Scotia’s tongue and manner –
We Scots, though of blood diluted as hell
Live under Romance’s Banner!
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