This is a new column that will
appear regularly in our paper. The column will attempt to bring insights
into Robert Burns for those who may not be as familiar with him as they
would like. On more than one occasion, I have heard people say they would
like to know more about the writings of Burns, but after trying to
understand the Scots dialect, they eventually give up - sooner rather than
later. I know, I’ve been there.
Well, nearly two years ago I took
the bull by the horns and joined the Burns Club of Atlanta. I felt that
the only way to get past this "bump in the road" (a.k.a. understanding the
Scots dialect) was to expose myself to those who know more than me on the
subject and to buy books on Burns for study. I have fallen in love with
Atlanta’s Burns Cottage, which is an exact replica of the original in
Alloway, Scotland where Burns was born. The club’s members have welcomed
my wife, Susan, and me and made us feel right at home. The meetings are a
lot of fun mixed with a little learning, and we both look forward to our
meeting each month.
I have been impressed with most of
the speakers, particular those who did not try to impress you, but the
general membership is to be admired and respected for their knowledge of
Burns and, more importantly, their willingness to share that knowledge.
Some of our better speakers are among our own membership. My quest to be
better informed about Robert Burns by joining the Burns Club has not been
disappointing. To the contrary, it has been more than I ever imagined.
Not everyone is fortunate enough to
have a local Burns Club to fall back on for information about Scotland’s
national bard, his life and his work. So, I discussed with Beth Gay, our
editor, the possibility of having a regular column on Burns. Why wait for
Burns Nicht once a year to honor Burns? Maybe the haggis but not Burns!
This will be like a mini correspondence course without the exams. It will
be an Introduction to Robert Burns 101, if you please. Guest
authors, as well as laymen, will write the column and, from time to time,
I’ll stick my two cents worth in with an article or two.
We’ll try to bring you pictures of
Burns himself, statues and places in the Burns triangle - Ayr, Edinburgh
and Dumfries - where he lived, loved, drank, ploughed, wrote, sang,
collected taxes and died. Susan and I will be in London and Scotland for a
couple of weeks in October, and if everything works out the way we plan,
and with the guidance of Thomas Keith, our friend from New York City and
fellow Burnsian, we will search out as many of the statues as possible. We
will introduce you to the men and women who influenced Burns by their
lives, their loves and their writings. We will talk about the poems, songs
and letters of Burns. We will learn the difference between a "Skinking
haggis" and a "stinking haggis"! We will look at the best and the worst of
Burns in his writings and his life. This future column will, by and large,
be one of teaching.
We will learn that bawdy is not
necessarily dirty and that the sublime is sometimes rather simple.
Hopefully some of you, particularly those who are unfamiliar with Burns,
will build a notebook of the columns to have as a reference when needed.
We will recommend books to the beginner and tell you if some are a wee
We’ll see how this young genius died
between his 37th and 38th years but who left the
world a much better place because of what he left us. We’ll hear about his
views on liberty, freedom, love, "my Jacobitism", and whom he would hold
as his chief enemy. The Burns scholar may be bemused about this effort,
but we will enjoy the last laugh since Burns was one of us!
My only regret is that The
Family Tree is published just every two months, but if you will
hang in there with us, the ride will be worth it. Some may scoff at this
undertaking, but it is at least that – an undertaking that we all can
participate in if we are willing to learn as we go.
One thing is for sure, we’ll take
this journey together, and somewhere down the road we will look back and
feel good about where we started. Welcome aboard!