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Robert Burns Lives!
Volume 1 Chapter 29


By way of introduction, Dr. Tom Burns, immediate Past President of The Burns Club of Atlanta, has challenged its membership to submit one or more poems by Robert Burns for a book to be published by the club. The book of poems is to be sold at the 35th Annual Stone Mountain Scottish Festival & Highland Games October 19-21, 2007. One contributor to this publication will be Dr. Ross Roy, honorary member, and the world’s leading Burns scholar. The following is my contribution to the project.

My Favorite Burns Poem
By Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Atlanta, GA email: jurascot@earthlink.net

Asking one to choose a favorite Burns poem is like asking one to choose his favorite child or grandchild. Years ago when I invited my father-in-law Vic to lunch at what was at that time one of Atlanta’s best known bars and restaurants, Harrison’s on Peachtree, I ordered a glass of wine. He ordered a rye whiskey, neat! (They had to go to the back room to find the bottle - that should have told me something!)  I casually raised my glass for a toast and told him how happy I was to be married to his daughter and that he and Ernesteen had done a good job raising her. Vic looked me in the eye, raised his glass, and without missing a beat, said, “Frank, all five are good children”. There was no favorite!

Where do you start choosing a favorite poem of Rabbie? To me it is an almost impossible task. After all, like Vic’s children, they are all good! In this case it will be interesting to see how many of the songs of Burns end up being chosen as favorite poems. Poems are poems. Songs are songs and are not usually meant to be read as poetry…prose maybe. But since Tom Burns, esteemed Past President of the Burns Club of Atlanta and erstwhile editor of this celebration publication, indicated we can choose a favorite and even more than one, I’ll jump head first into the selection process and choose John Anderson, my jo, John a song of joy, a song of love!

There may have been other songs and poems that were my favorites over the years but as I have aged, and hopefully matured, my mind, and more importantly, my heart, keeps going back to John Anderson, my jo, John. While this song expresses the love of a wife for the man in her life after decades of marriage, I can identify with the gentle words she sings to her sweetheart and the feelings of love and affection she expresses to him. One needs to keep in mind that the word “jo” is a term of endearment and can be interpreted as joy, sweetheart, darling, lover, or dear. I have chosen to interpret it as love.

This is a song about all that is good for a couple growing old together – past, present, and future. When I read these words, it is easy for me to think only of the woman I married over 33 years ago. It is easy for me to say that I’ve never loved this way before, and to borrow the words from a more recent popular song, “I’ll never love this way again”!  John Anderson, my jo, John speaks boldly to me just as my heart does about the woman I love.

John Anderson, my jo, John is not only a song about how good the couple’s love has been but an acclamation, or more importantly, an affirmation of faith, even a public testimony, of how good their love has been in the past and will continue to be in the future, no matter how long or how short their lives together may be from this point on in time! So, as I am entering and enjoying the 70th year of my life, these words from John Anderson, my jo, John are precious to me, a safe harbor, and it is a joy to dedicate this article to my Susan!  

Robert Burns empathically says, “This song is mine”! He took a rather risqué, bawdy, barroom song, and beginning with the second verse, transformed it into a song of beauty, a song of joy! This rewritten song shows him at his best in writing from a woman’s perspective. The words come from the recesses of her heart. The genius of Burns comes through in this song probably as much as any song he wrote. If any man ever knew or really understood women, Robert Burns is that man!

Here are the words, and I have attempted to make the song clearer for those of you who, like me, do not understand or know the Scots language without a dictionary for assistance:

John Anderson, my Jo, John

John Anderson, my love John,
When we were first acquainted,
Your locks were like the raven,
Your bonnie brow was smooth.
But now your brow is bald, John.
Your locks are like the snow,
But blessings on your frosty head,
John Anderson, my love.

John Anderson, my love John,
We climbed the hills together,
And many a cheerful day, John,
We’ve had with one another.
Now we must gently totter down, John,
And hand in hand we’ll go;
And sleep together at the foot,
John Anderson, my love.

(FRS: 8-07-07)


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