Camberley Reel Club

Library - The Immortal Mortal

By Bill Forbes
Published in the Berkshire/Hampshire/Surrey Border Branch News, January 1993

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The time of year is quickly approaching when we will be wearing our best bib and tucker to attend some grand Burns celebration, or maybe just taking our fork, knife and spoon to our local club for our tatties, neeps and haggis to celebrate the birth of Sootland’s national bard, Robert Burns, born on the 25th January 1759 at Alloway in Ayrshire, and died in 1796 at the age of 37 at Dumfries.

By modern standards Burns had the sketchiest education, at an early age he was proficient in the three Rs, he read every book he could get his hands on, and better still he understood and retained what he read. Before he had reached the age of 12 he was virtually doing a man's job on his father's small tenanted farm. This had much to do with the ill health, strained heart and bouts of fever he suffered from later in life.

When he was 15 years old, he wrote his first love song when he thought he was in love, while harvesting with the lovely Nellie Kilpatrick. Quote: ‘She dresses aye so clean and neat, both decent and genteel, and there's something in her gait, makes any dress look well’. From then on he had many loves and no doubt this had much to do with the wealth of love songs he left for the world. When he was 26 he married his greatest love of all, Jean Amour and from there we got a masterpiece, 'My love is like a red, red rose'.

Burns was a world poet, he embraced all humanity and in turn humanity has embraced him. When he wasn't living in bouts of depression, he was on cloud-nine; that is when we got the genius. His poetry and songs were not something to sit down and compose, it was a way of life, showing his sense of philosophy, verses such as: ‘O wad some power the gift to gie us, to see oursels as others see us, it wad frae monie a blunder free us, and foolish notion’, also his belief that: ‘Man to man the world over shall brothers be’, and even today Europe is trying hard to do just that. He gave the world their national anthem – ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and something we have all experienced in life, ‘The best laid schemes o' mice and men gang aft agley, an leave us nought but grief and pain for promised joy'. Has this ever been so perfectly expressed.

Have we ever considered why we celebrate the birth of a man of such humble surroundings, a peasant farmer, living from year to year in near poverty? The words of Burns are timeless. Yes - he was a genius. Today we salute Burns not as a great lover, but a man who helped Scotland preserve her language, and her traditions. During his life Scotland was fast becoming a mere appendage of England, her language and lore was in danger of dying out. Burns says clearly what every Scot feels, and he says it beautifully with a dash of sentiment, to which the nation is so partial.

The gatherings on the 25th January may seem to some to be little more than an opportunity to drink whisky and eat haggis, and tell the whole world how Scottish we are. To the Scot however, it is time to take stock of himself, of his life, and fellow-men. The Burns Supper is good therapy for any man and any nation, in its best aspects it does immense good. What better gift could any man give his country. Many nations will go on year after year expressing their gratitude to the Immortal Robert Burns.

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