For many years my Dad performed at Burns Suppers; singing, reciting poems, or delivering various parts of the usual speeches, including the ‘infamous’ Toast to the Lassies. Latterly he became involved with Dumbarton Burns Club holding various positions on the committee, and whenever Burns Night rolls around my thoughts immediately roll back to memories of my Dad rehearsing a song, or writing a poem or speech for the occasion.
Some years he’d attend 6 or 7 different Burns Suppers, with many local clubs keen to harness his talents and as a ‘well kent face’ he was never short of offers. Just as well he liked haggis…
Since his passing, I’ve always paused for a few moments on this day each year and let the memories wash over me. In Scotland, Burns Night is a tradition that we were taught about in primary school, learning some of the songs and poems (with Cutty Sark being the most famous given that the ship of the same name was built in my hometown of Dumbarton). Memories of Braehead Primary music room, Burns competitions, and later as an adult attending my first Burns Supper and realising just how rich a seam of culture and tradition I had grown up in.
It’s no coincidence then that I included a verse from a Burns poem in my Dad’s eulogy, and I find myself reaching for this poem each year, hearing his rich voice and practiced cadence delivering the lines.
To a Mouse
by Robert Burns
On Turning her up in her Nest, with the Plough, November 1785.
Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickerin brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!
I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle,
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen-icker in a thrave
’S a sma’ request:
I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,
An’ never miss ’t!
Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
It’s silly wa’s the win’s are strewin!
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
O’ foggage green!
An’ bleak December’s winds ensuin,
Baith snell an’ keen!
Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste,
An’ weary Winter comin fast,
An’ cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro’ thy cell.
That wee-bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the Winter’s sleety dribble,
An’ cranreuch cauld!
But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!
Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me! The present only toucheth thee: But Och! I backward cast my e’e, On prospects drear! An’ forward tho’ I canna see, I guess an’ fear!