Burns and The Holy Fair

If someone asks you the old old question, 'What would you change if you could go back in time?' and after you've replied to the effect that you wouldn't change a thing, what if you had no choice but to go back anyway? To which era of time would you return?

It is probably a truism that, the older we get the more we think of the future - until we reach a certain age / stage when thoughts of future and present give way to the past.

I confess to becoming more and more interested in history. Not my own but that of mankind in general on these islands of ours. Of course we are taught at school about wars, heroes, kings and queens but the history that interests me is that of the so-called common man. His/her ways of life, his/her general behaviour; the attitudinal paths our predecessors made and trod that have led to the way I am/we are today.

A good friend recently loaned me Thomas Crawford's 'BURNS: a study of the poems and songs'. I've just reached the writer's dissection of Rabbie's early poems revolving around life and religion (same thing) in lowland Scotland's mid-18th century. Poems such as the marvellous Holy Willie's Prayer and The Holy Fair. Crawford tells us that the inhabitants of several villages would on certain annual occasions gather together for several days' worth of serial sermonising and general worship, but cites a report to the church of Scotland in which ...

'you find a great number of men and women lying together upon the grass ... here you will find a knot of young fellows and girls making assignations to go home together or meet in some ale house ... a pious circle sitting around an ale barrel ... an odd mixture of religion, sleep, drinking, courtship, and a confusion of sexes, ages, and characters. (Those nearer to the sermoniser are) sweating, bawling, jumping, and beating the desk; others fainting with the stifling heat or wrestling to extricate themselves from the crowd ... others groaning, sighing and weeping for his sins'

How wonderfully evocative! I cannot resist appending this with Burns' own take on 'The Holy Fair'. Youll get the drift of this one stanza amongst many even if you do not understand all the auld Scottish words ...

Here farmers gash, in ridin graith,
Gaed hoddin by their cotters:
There swankies young, in braw braid-claith,
Are springin owre the gutters.
The lasses, skelpin parefit, thrang,
In silks an' scarlet glitter;
Wi' sweet-milk cheese, in monie a whang,
An' farls, bak'd wi' butter,
Fu' crump that day.


Sounds familiar? Pop concert, football match, 'having a good time' 18th/21st century style, perhaps?

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