January 25 is Burns Night (note, no apostrophe!).
In this week’s issue, we’re marking the occasion with Willie Shand’s feature about Rabbie’s whistle-stop tour of Scotland. That started me off on a train of thought about my own encounters with Burns’s poetry.
I suppose for most of us, our first poetical encounter is with nursery rhymes. Those little ditties imbue an early sense of what a poem is supposed to be. When we’re very young, if a verse doesn’t have a strong rhythm and rhymes, it can’t be a poem!
School broadens our horizons eventually – a teacher at my primary school used to read us something from “The Book Of A Thousand Poems” every single afternoon. (Thank you, Mrs Crooke!) I begged for a copy for Christmas that year, and it still has a spot on my bookshelves. It doesn’t have any Burns in it, though. What an omission!
However, thanks to my poetry-loving grandpa, Burns wasn’t a closed book to me. My grandparents kept a selection of poetry books. I used to love the miniature editions of Sir Walter Scott they had. I couldn’t understand them back then, but they were the perfect size for little hands, and I adored looking at them whenever we visited!
Grandpa would often select a poem to read aloud to me. The first one I remember is Wordsworth’s “Lucy Gray”. Bit grim for a child – little Lucy heads across the moors with a lantern in a snowstorm to light her mother’s way home, but comes to a soggy end in the river (spoilers!) – but the words and the reading of them enthralled me.
As did Burn’s “To A Mouse”, when he read me that. One of the great things about Grandpa reading Burns, was that he did it properly. Since he was from Dumfries, I guess he felt he had to! I didn’t understand half the words at the time “sleekit”? “, “brattle?”, “pattle?”, but I knew I enjoyed the poem – especially Burns’s fellow-feeling with the poor mouse who had had her nest upset by the plough.
I still like to read Burns’s poetry, and treasure the volume that my parents gave me back in the 1980s. I don’t read it out loud, though – not sure my English accent would do it justice. Besides, we have a brilliant Burns reader in our own Judey, who reads some of our podcast stories so beautifully!
There are lots of Burns’s poems to read online. This selection from the BBC is particularly good. Why not take a glance at one of the bard’s verses this Burns Night?
For more from the Features Ed (and not the Features Ed!), click here.
Click here to watch our latest Facebook Live broadcast, where Editor Angela and Production Ed Judey talk all things Burns.