Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Poetry Wednesday: Robert Burns

A local Scottish festival a week ago had me thinking about my own Scottish ancestors, the Henderson clan. Many people of Scottish descent settled in Utah in pioneer times, including my own great grandfather and his family. Local names and customs still reflect those pioneers.

My childhood home was at the foot of Mount Ben Lomond; and that mountain peak is framed now in the front window where I live today. I attended Ben Lomond High School, where we were the Fightin' Friendly Scots; our school colors were the very unlikely Stewart tartan. I danced the Highland Fling and marched in the Bonnie Lassies drill team. As small children in our family, when we misbehaved, my mother threatened to give us all a "Scotch Blessing". Yes, many influences.

This reminiscing led me to reading poetry of Scotland's most famous and much-loved poet, Robert Burns, and to my choice for this week's Poetry Wednesday.

To A Louse may be his most well-known poem after Auld Lang Syne, though most have probably only heard the last stanza. You can imagine him sitting in church behind this finely-dressed lady and watching the progress of a louse on her bonnet. I love the language, though it may be hard to understand, but the moral of the story is clear: if only we had the power to see ourselves as others see us . . .

To A Louse
On Seeing One On A Lady's Bonnet, At Church


Ha! whaur ye gaun, ye crowlin ferlie?
Your impudence protects you sairly;
I canna say but ye strunt rarely,
Owre gauze and lace;
Tho', faith! I fear ye dine but sparely
On sic a place.

Ye ugly, creepin, blastit wonner,
Detested, shunn'd by saunt an' sinner,
How daur ye set your fit upon her-
Sae fine a lady?
Gae somewhere else and seek your dinner
On some poor body.

Swith! in some beggar's haffet squattle;
There ye may creep, and sprawl, and sprattle,
Wi' ither kindred, jumping cattle,
In shoals and nations;
Whaur horn nor bane ne'er daur unsettle
Your thick plantations.

Now haud you there, ye're out o' sight,
Below the fatt'rels, snug and tight;
Na, faith ye yet! ye'll no be right,
Till ye've got on it-
The verra tapmost, tow'rin height
O' Miss' bonnet.

My sooth! right bauld ye set your nose out,
As plump an' grey as ony groset:
O for some rank, mercurial rozet,
Or fell, red smeddum,
I'd gie you sic a hearty dose o't,
Wad dress your droddum.

I wad na been surpris'd to spy
You on an auld wife's flainen toy;
Or aiblins some bit dubbie boy,
On's wyliecoat;
But Miss' fine Lunardi! fye!
How daur ye do't?

O Jeany, dinna toss your head,
An' set your beauties a' abread!
Ye little ken what cursed speed
The blastie's makin:
Thae winks an' finger-ends, I dread,
Are notice takin.

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion:
What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us,
An' ev'n devotion!

1 comment:

Dangerous Meredith said...

very funny poem and I love the way Burns manipulates this scottish dialect.

By the way, my mother's sister married a Henderson. I wonder if you guys are (distantly) related. We all live down in Australia, though.