Rabbie Burns

So yesterday we finally had our Burns Club Christmas get-together. It took place at Elna's beautiful house overlooking the Badachro Inn and the Bay, with Gairloch laid out beyond. Mirror flat seas, cold blue skies and snow lying all around was the order of the day. Magical!

As we haven't had the car out of our snow-bound drive for more than a week the Bard of Fernbank was kind enough to drive us to Badachro, displaying the casual skills of a Norwegian rally driver en route. Warmed up considerably when the mulled wine and highland dancing set in.

I meant to read out the following short short story as my contribution to the proceedings but we felt it wise to get back on the road before dark, so here, now, it is ...

For All That

The Globe Inn proved to be a most popular venue this market day. My travelling companion told me what he would like to drink. I eased myself through the crowd and up to the servery. Loud Scots voices and shouts of laughter overlapped and over-rode each other. A part-shaven, apparently early day victim of the demon drink ensconced in the corner was singing as if to himself about his ‘luve being like a red red rose’. Seemingly he missed this lassie very much, did this fair looking man in well-worn clothing. The fellow had a good enough voice on him but at mid-day?

‘Wha’s for thee?’

‘Two of your finest drams, innkeeper,’ I replied, revelling in my own use of the vernacular; ‘If it should please you.’ The drunken singer had hauled himself upright, gesticulating extravagantly. He sang on: ‘And fare thee weel, my only luve / and fare thee weel a while! / And I will come again my Luve / Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.’ He stopped at that and, as some applause broke out, looked all around, nodding, smiling a trifle crookedly. He bowed low in acknowledgment. In spite of the drink and the well worn state of his clothing the fellow was most surely possessed of a certain dignity. ‘Innkeeper,’ I added, ‘And give that man whatever he may be drinking. It was a fine song.’

‘Aye, we know it and we know him weel enough here,’ was the response.

The singer must have overheard the exchange. ‘Fee, fie, foe, fum,’ he proferred, looking along the bar top directly at me, ‘For I smell the bluid of an Englishman; a rich one, by heavens!’

‘Come come, my good man,’ I said. ‘This one wishes you no ill’.

‘Aye?’ He accepted the glass of whisky seemingly with good grace, still on his feet though staggering a little. ‘As no more do I, you, my lord,’ he says. Now I am no lord, simply an ordinary citizen of the realm with my friend on tour around these northern parts. But the man raised his glass; ‘And in thankful compensation for this I have some words for thee, my lord,’ says he, striking a heroic pose, supported in part now by a passing serving girl, a comely lass. The babble had stopped. In a new and clearly expectant silence the man drew himself to his full height, threw wide his arms, recited … (and I shall try the dialect here, for better or worse) …

Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord,
Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that;
Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a coof for a' that:
For a' that, an' a' that,
His ribband, star, an' a' that:
The man o' independent mind
He looks an' laughs at a' that.

He drained his drink in one, shrugged off the girl, took to the centre of the floor, went on …

A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an' a' that;
But an honest man's abon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa' that!
For a' that, an' a' that,
Their dignities an' a' that;
The pith o' sense, an' pride o' worth,
Are higher rank than a' that.

I felt I should protest; should aver that events overseas had no place in these bejewelled and thus far peace-filled islands of ours but I had become as if entranced by both the man and these revolutionary words … He continued, looking now more to my companion that to myself …

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a' that,)
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
It's coming yet for a' that,
That Man to Man, the world o'er,
Shall brothers be for a' that.

I knew this to be very, very fine poesy! With a final flourish he weaved his way in an extended silence back to his seat at the corner of the bar. Then came the clapping and the cheering, and I have to say endorsed by myself and most emphatically by my companion, whether the verse be politically dangerous or no. The reciter was as if deaf to all now. How quickly had he re-engaged with his serving girl!

When I could finally make myself heard I caught the innkeeper’s attention. ‘A fine poem,’ says I, ‘And one I have not heard before. ‘It is by the speaker?’

‘No,’ says the man. ‘The speaker is Rabbie Carsin, but he’s the son of the poet in all but name, or so it is said. He doesn’a mind being known as such. Look at him yonder! Like father like son if you’ll see him now! Yes, Rabbie Burns is the poet, or he was, and as well known here in the Globe as this other. They called Burns the ploughman poet. He died here in Dumphries twenty and four years since. But you have heard no word of Burns down in England?

I shook my head. ‘But I have now,’ I said. I addressed my companion; ‘You have heard tell of this Rabbie Burns?’

‘Yes I have, and you may be sure that the whole world will come to hear much more of him,’ replied Lord Byron. ‘Do you not think so, Shelley?’

The end

1820 is the year of this story. Burns died in 1796, Shelley in 1822, Byron in 1824

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