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 worlds leading Burns scholar. The following is my
contribution to the project.
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
Atlantas best known bars and restaurants, Harrisons 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 Vics
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, Ill 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 Ive never loved this way before, and to
borrow the words from a more recent popular song, Ill 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 couples 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 JohnAnderson, my jo, John are
precious to me, a safe harbor, and it is a joy to dedicate this article to
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 womans 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!
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:
Anderson, my Jo, 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.
Anderson, my love John,
We climbed the hills together,
And many a cheerful day, John,
Weve had with one another.
Now we must gently totter down, John,
And hand in hand well go;
And sleep together at the foot,
John Anderson, my love.
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