Raise a glass to truth and Robert Burns

No alternative facts here. Truth is fearful only to those with something to hide as Pat Sutherland concludes in her skilfully woven tribute to Robert Burns:

Here’s freedom to them that would read.

Here’s freedom to them that would write!

There’s nane ever feare’d that the truth should be heard

But they wham the truth wid indite! 

Rab I Wish You Knew is a fine toast for a Burns Supper (the last four lines are a direct quote from Here’s a Health to Them That’s Awa).  And it will surely raise a glass in the spirit of Valentine’s Day.  There’s warmth and humour in the light of a ‘lusty man’ and his love ‘for them a’… the Jeans and Lizzie’s/ just no wan at a time’. Wry irony in his ‘mockin’ the unco’ guid/ then lickin’their boots for patronage’.

But there’s much that is both timeless and topical in the poem which focuses on the contrast between the poet’s background and his lasting impact on the world. With unease and division spreading across the world there’s potent poignancy in the way Burns’s words can bring people together: ‘shackled nations’ across the globe singing ‘that man to man, the world o’er/shall brithers be/for a’ that’. In our tuneless time, drumbeats of fear have threatened to drown out such songs in newly shackled nations.

And there’s personal sadness in loss. The unalterable fact of mortality. ‘Rab deid too soon’. Poetry – and truth – persists, for a’ that. And that’s worth toasting any day of the week.

Rab I wish you knew

You were a man o’ pairts, Rab,

a poet wi’ pen, a sophist wi’ plough,

stoppin’ amang the stour

tae beg a moosie’s pardon,

say sorry tae a daisy;

mockin’ the unco’ guid

then lickin’ their boots

for patronage.

A  lusty man, Rab,

wi’ charm an’ sweetest words

you won the lassies,

faitherin’ bairns across the county,

keepin’ warm the cutty stool

for sake o’ cutty sarks,

ge’in’  gleefu’ gossip

tae warpit auld wives.

You loved them a’, Rab,

the Jeans an Lizzies –

jist no wan at a time,

an’ them that deid or left,

you loved forever.

Above a’, Rab, a workin’ man,

you filled each year

wi’ toil;

tied tae a plough,

you laboured

in the futile fields

an wrote an wrote

by candle licht

seein’ your best laid schemes

wasted, like sodden acres.

You deid too soon, Rab,

before the word went roon,

before  Rab the Rhymer

gie’d way tae ‘Scotland’s Bard’

before, across the globe

shackled nations sang

that man to man, the world o’er,

shall brithers be for a’ that.

Today we toast you

and a’ your works:

the sangs, the poems,

the lassies, the bairns –

the words that winna dee:

Here’s freedom to them that would read.

Here’s freedom to them that would write!

There’s nane ever feare’d that the truth should be heard

But they wham the truth wid indite!

Oh Rab, I wish you knew.

Pat Sutherland, aged 75, is a former teacher who took up freelance writing and editing after early retirement in 1992. In 2014 she was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer   She has returned to writing as a hobby since taking part in an expressive writing programme at Glasgow’s Maggie Centre. This is the first time she has offered a poem for publication and we are delighted she chose Sceptical Scot.

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