Robert Burns: of Mice & Men

Ode to a Mouse (Photo courtesy Guiseppe Martini on Unsplash)

During her presentation, Linda McGregor read four poems by Robert Burns — in Scottish dialect — while we followed her English translation: words so familiar and so foreign! “Address to a Haggis,” “Holy Willie’s Prayer,” “Ode to a Mouse” and Ode to a Louse”. Quaint…

… but it’s satire, and speaks to us over two centuries later! Coincidentally, “Ode to a Louse” was quoted in the next morning’s Calgary Herald (October 31, 2018, p. A15) under the headline, “Who will act to end America’s gun insanity? Moral authority shattered,” writes Terrence J. Downey. Here it is, but using Linda’s translation:

Oh if only God would give us the gift

Of seeing ourselves as others see us!

It would free us from many a blunder

And silly notions.

Translation by Linda McGregor

Robert Burns was a master of humour and satire. We could get no better presenter of this writer than Linda, who as a child spoke Burns’ own “Geordie language” and was told, “Speak English!” when she moved to Aberdeen. Wearing a Scottish scarf and with a gleam in her eye, Linda started her talk by dispensing with myths, such as:

1. There is undue focus on Robert Burns’ sex life. He was not responsible for a population increase in Scotland. He was survived by only three sons (of 13 children.)
2. He did not die a pauper or of venereal disease but of natural causes due to severe poverty in childhood.
3. He was not a prodigious drinker: He couldn’t hold his liquor so pretended to be drunk.
4. Not every Scottish song was written by Burns!

Intrigued to read more?

Linda recommends reading How the Scots Invented the Modern World by Arthur Herman.

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