Sunday, December 10, 2023

Raise a glass to a poet and a folk hero

| January 19, 2019 12:00 AM


Staff Writer

A long-gone poet continues to give people a reason to come together, raise a cup of kindness and sing the "most famous song that nobody knows" each New Year's Eve.

Cheers, Robert Burns. This one's for you.

"Everyone sings 'Auld Lang Syne' at the New Year, a huge celebration in Scotland," Scotland-born North Idaho College English instructor Audrey Cameron said Friday. "If you are with Scots, make sure to say 'Syne' with an 's' not a 'z' sound!"

Beyond his contribution to New Year's traditions, which Readers Digest calls "a piece of the long oral tradition of getting drunk and singing," Burns wrote hundreds of songs and poems that linger in modern language.

"Everyone knows his work, even if they don't realize it: 'The best laid plans of mice and men,' 'To see ourselves as others see us' are from Burns," Cameron said. "One reason he is beloved in Scotland today is that he was a key figure in preserving the Scots’ language and folk traditions — he spent the last few years of his life collecting traditional ballads (music and lyrics); he set many of his poems to traditional tunes. He was also a proponent of Scottish national identity — the Union of Parliaments in 1707 meant Scotland was no longer independent, something he lamented in 'A Parcel of Rogues.' His song 'For A' That and A' That' was sung at the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999."

Burns was the people's poet, Cameron said.

"He grew up as a tenant farmer, and he wrote of the life of ordinary people with empathy and from experience," she said. "He is often seen as a radical, politically. He was a big supporter of the American Revolution, which was a dangerous position at the time."

A poet of the people, he is celebrated by the people on and around his birthday (Jan. 25) 260 years later during Robert Burns Night events around the world. His face even appears on commemorative Scottish bank notes.

"In his lifetime, he became famous, as opposed to so many other writers and poets who have to be dead before anyone pays attention to them," said Kris McIlvenna, owner of the Greenbriar Inn and 315 Martinis and Tapas. "He had a huge circle of friends, he was a big aficionado of different types of scotches."

Burns Night began after Burns died at age 37 in 1796. People gather for a Burns supper and feast on traditional Scottish fare like haggis, a pudding made of sheep organs and minced veggies traditionally encased in the animal's stomach.

It's Scotland's national dish, which Burns made famous in his humorous 1787 poem "Address to a Haggis."

"It stars haggis, that's the big star of the event," said Scottish dance instructor Kacey Hawkins, owner of Lake City Highland Dance studio. "There’s poetry reading, live music from Celtic artists, Scottish highland dancers … It's a big, fun celebration."

Hawkins, who will be attending a Robert Burns Night dinner and dance in Spokane, said she is a big fan of Burns' works and appreciates that these events are passed on through the generations.

"It’s just really neat to see that," she said. "It's very traditional. A lot of poems and the dances are the same that you would have seen in the 1700s. It’s all about paying tribute to what came before."

The Greenbriar will host its second Robert Burns Scotch Whisky Dinner at 6 p.m. Thursday in honor of Scotland's most beloved poet. Guests will enjoy high-end scotch samplings, a five-course authentic Scottish meal including roasted game bird, poached pears and more, fun prizes and wisdom imparted by 315 Martinis and Tapas liquor representative Dean Opsal.

"Last year it was such a big success that I thought we would make it an annual event," McIlvenna said. "Restaurants shut themselves down to do these parties. They're big in northern Europe and wherever there are people who love scotch and love his work."

Reservations are recommended. For information, visit www.315martinisand or call 208-667-9660.

Recent Headlines