Rabbie Burns an’ a’ that

Today is poet Robert Burns’ 264th birthday and Burns suppers, with the traditional fare of haggis, champit tatties* and bashit neeps*, will be taking place this week all over Scotland and beyond. Burns was a prolific writer whose poetry ranged from railing against social injustice to sympathising with a field mouse evicted from a ploughed field, and embraced both the natural and the supernatural.

Generations of Scottish school children enjoyed (or endured) learning and reciting Burns poetry in the run up to Burns’ night. Sometimes, the challenge was simply to learn a piece of poetry in Scots, whether or not it was written by Burns. Few writers are so celebrated internationally as Burns (there are no Tennyson teas or Shakespeare suppers, after all) and Burns’ poetry is undoubtedly meaningful to, and enjoyed by, millions around the world. However, the focus on Burns overshadows other poets writing in Scots. For this reason, for many years after I had learned to recite it, I thought the short, humorous poem The Sair Finger was a Burns’ classic, when in fact it was penned by another Ayrshire-born poet, Walter Wingate.

Writing more than a century after Burns’ death, Wingate contributed poems to the Glasgow Herald among other newspapers and magazines while working as a teacher of maths in Glasgow. His work was published in anthologies but, unlike Burns, Wingate didn’t have his own book of poetry published until after his death in 1918. So here, to give Wingate his due, is The Sair Finger:

You’ve hurt your finger? Puir wee man!
Your pinkie? Deary me!
Noo, juist you haud it that wey till
I get my specs and see!

My, so it is – and there’s the skelf!
Noo, dinna greet nae mair.
See there – my needle’s gotten’t out!
I’m sure that wasna sair?

And noo, to make it hale the morn,
Put on a wee bit saw,
And tie a Bonnie hankie roun’t
Noo, there na – rin awa’!

Your finger sair ana’? Ye rogue,
You’re only lettin’ on.
Weel, weel, then – see noo, there ye are,
Row’d up the same as John!

But it wouldn’t be right to exclude Burns’ work from a post celebrating his birthday so here also is a beautiful rendition of one of his most famous love songs, A Red, Red Rose, sung by the wonderful tenor Jamie MacDougall as the soundtrack to a short film by his lovely daughter Laura MacDougall.

* Champit tatties are mashed potatoes. Bashit neeps are mashed turnips.

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