The Immortal Memory.
The main speech of the evening which is really to underline the reasons why Burns Memory is, and should be, immortal.
It should also bring out points as to why he is relevant in our times and society.
It should help people understand what Burns said
and encourage them to apply Burns principles and values to their own lives and to society around them resolving to improve both.
It should persuade them to re-examine their country's nationhood, preserve it, and make it a force for good among their fellow nations.
Since there is no set format it really should be a personal tribute. To some it is his life story which is absorbing. To others it is his contribution to Song but it should explain why he was famous.
If the audience is fairly new to Burns the subject matter should be fairly broad and wide sweeping. It is better that you include poems that you are familiar with or have a particular empathy with. Feel free to use the information on any pages of this website.
A selection of themes which can be used are
Burns - Ploughman or genius and intellectual.
Burns, the exciseman and farmer.
Folksong writer of genius.
Burns thoughts if he were alive today
Burns - Preserver of our heritage.
Burns set against the historical times of his day.
Burns, the saviour of Scotland.
What Burns says to the oppressed Nations of the World.
Burns and friendship.
Andy Waterman is a visitor to this site and has emailed me with the following success story. Just to explain our night, we started at our golf club 5 years ago with 36. The next year we were sold out straight away with 58 which is the maximum number for our club. We were then sold out each year after that without even putting a list up. This year we changed venue and booked the village hall which had better all round facilities. We actually finished with 110 and still had to turn some people down.
Andy wanted to say thanks very much for this website which has helped them host some wonderful Burns nights and has sent an an Immortal Memory that was given at the above function. This was written and proposed by Malcolm Currie who has given permission to use this as they felt it was only fair that they put something back in.
Thank you Andy and Malcolm.
Malcolm's Immortal Memory
Robert Burns was born the son of a poor farmer in Alloway, South West Scotland, on the 25th of January 1759. Despite the extreme poverty of his family, Burns' father ensured that he had a good education in his early years.
For most of his life, Burns had to work hard on the farm, undernourished and out in all weathers. The result of which was that he died in poverty at the tragically young age of 37, yet over 10,000 people attended his funeral.
Tonight I would like to take you on a brief tour of the immortal genius that made so many people mourn his passing.
Let us begin with the tiniest aspect of this genius:
In "Ode to a Louse", Burns, after watching a louse burying its way into the hair of an attractive young woman sitting on the pew in front of him in church, chastises the creature for having such nerve
Ha! Whare ye gaun, ye crowlin ferlie?
Your impudence protects you sairly,
I canna say but ye strut rarely
Owre gauze and lace,
Tho' faith! I fear ye dine but sparely
On sic a place.
Of course, Burns being Burns, he does point out that to the louse it doesn't matter how posh the host is - a scalp is a scalp. Actually, the girl in question turns out to be not as posh as first described - in fact, she's probably a "special" friend of Robbie's called Jenny, dressed in her Sunday best!
Let's go a little bigger
In "To a Mouse" Burns recognizes the plight of a mouse, whose nest he's overturned with his plough, as being very similar to his own desperate existence as a poor tenant farmer. He appeals to the tiny animal not to be afraid and that, indeed, that two beings wth so much in common should not have anything to fear from each other
Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty
Wi bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' murdering prattle.
John Steinbeck, one of America's greatest writers, borrowed a line from this poem to use for the title of his great work "Of Mice and Men", a powerful and moving portrayal of the trials and tribulations of poor migrant farmers in the California of The Great Depression.
Let's now move up to the size of a single man
To Burns, all men are born equal and a man's worth does not depend on the weight of his purse or the acreage of his estate. This is most famously stated in the song "A Man's a Man for a' that"
Is there for honest poverty
That hings his head, an' a' that?
The coward slave, we pass him by
We dare be poor for a' that!
For a' that, an' a' that,
Our toils obscure, an' a' that,
The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The man's the gowd for a' that.
Up sizing again, we come to Burns' poetry describing the nature of the love that can exist between two people. In "Ae Fond Kiss" he brilliantly encapsulates both the ecstasy and pain of love. He reduces everything to one basic and overpowering emotion: the emotion of having loved and then having to part. Sir Walter Scott commented that in this poem Burns sums up the "essence of a thousand love tales and furthermore, this one verse is worth a thousand romances"
Ae fond kiss, and then we sever!
Ae farewell, and then forever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee.
Who shall say that Fortune grieves him,
While the star of hope she leaves him?
Me, nae cheerfu' twinkle lights me,
Dark despair around benights me.
I would like to conclude with the example of Burns' genius that we are all familiar with and, at the same time, Burns at his biggest, his most universal.
As the bells chime to usher in the New Year across the world, millions sing his words of brotherhood and hope
And there's a hand, my trusty fiere!
And gie's a hand o' thine!
And we'll tak a right guid willy waught,
For auld lang syne.
So there we are - the genius of the man who could appreciate the world from its smallest and meanest, to the bigger picture at its most profound, Burns at once the nationalist - through his language, and internationalist - through his ideals.
Thanks for listening and I think it's about time again Ladies and Gentlemen, to charge your glasses and be upstanding to drink "a right gud willy waught" to the immortal memory of The Bard, Robbie Burns.
Another idea is to use the letters of his name.
Was Burns a ploughman poet, was his talent just a gift from God or was he aware of his place in destiny? On the other hand was he fully educated and was he a man of letters? Let us look at this man of Letters.
B. U. R. N. S.
B for brotherhood.
He did not care about mans creed, colour or religion.
For a' that
For a' that, an' a' that
It's comin' yet for a' that
That man to man, the world o'er
Shall brothers be for a' that.
The Tree of Liberty
Like brethren in a common cause
We'd on each other smile man
And equal rights and equal laws
Wad gladden ev'ry Isle, man.
Epistle to Doctor Blacklock
Not but I hae a richer share
Than mony ithers
But why should ae man better fare,
And a' men brithers.
Address to the Unco Guid
Then gently scan your brother man
Still gentler sister woman
Thou they may gang a kennin wrang
To step aside is human.
B is also for beauty. Look at A Lass wi' a Tocher and Bonie wee Thing.
U for his universality
The poet of all mankind. Translations of his work are in over 80 languages even obscure ones.
Auld Lang Syne
A Man's a Man ( Again )
Man was Made to Mourn.
R for religion
He abhorred hypocrisy and cant.
The Unco Guid
Epistle to a Young Friend
Epistle to the Rev. John McMath
The Cottar's Saturday Night.
Epitaph on John Dove
N for nature
Bring in philosophy.
To a Mouse.
Epistle to William Simpson
Epistle to Davie
On scaring some Water Fowl on Loch Turit
Verses Written with a Pencil
Epistle to James Smith
Now Westlin' Winds
S for song
All this work for no payment.
Ae Fond Kiss
S is also for Scotland. The Cottar - From scenes like these, The Author's Earnest Cry and Prayer, Lament of Mary, Queen of Scots, To the Guidwife of Wauchope House, Scotch Drink.
S is also to sum up the man and wind up by asking everyone to Toast the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns.
You then sit back and savour the applause. You have already received a standing ovation.
I am also indebted to Simon Edmands of Leatherhead, Surrey for his Immortal Memory which I include here for interest.
Ladies and Gentlemen, what can one say about Robbie Burns that hasn't been said before or, indeed, isn't being said at countless Burns Night Suppers around the world this very weekend?
In a word, nothing.
We know he was born in 1759, 250 years ago, and died just 37 years later in 1796, it says that on the front of the menu cards!
We know that, between these two dates and within what would now be considered to be an almost tragically short life, he wrote, without doubt, some inspired and inspiring pieces of prose and poetry, two of which - the Selkirk Grace and the Address to the Haggis, we have heard already this evening, expertly delivered by our Master of Ceremonies!
So what did I do earlier this week to try to find out a little bit more about Robbie Burns than we might already know or have heard? I went on the internet of course, I googled Robert Burns!!!
But that in itself got me thinking, supposing Robbie Burns had been alive not in the 18th century but here and now in the 21st century? What would he have made of modern society and technology - and computers and the internet in particular?
What would he have made of ROM and RAM, megabytes and gigabytes?
Perhaps he would have thought a google was a small furry creature native to the Scottish highlands, or a distant cousin of the haggis!?
And how different, of course, might have been his famous poem, To a Mouse!!?? Something like this perhaps...
To a (computer) mouse by Simon Edmands (with apologies to Robert Burns!)
Wee, sleekit, cow'rin', tim'rous beastie,
Of faded plastic, all pale and yeastie
With two wee buttons and bevelled wheel
I really love the way you feel
Against my hand as you roll around
Your wee mousemat with ne'er a sound
It's true there's cracks now in your casing
And your rollerball may need replacing
But still you plough on strong and tireless
Whilst those around you are all now wireless!
Then suddenly with nae a warning
In an act made of the devil's spawning
Where once it was upon the screen
Your little arrow can nae be seen
Blood pressure rising and lips a-pursing
Instead of cursor there now is cursing
And now your wheel is also sticking
Despite my frantic button clicking
But unfortunately this sort of trick
Cannot be cured with a double-click
The system's crashed, there's just one route
Control Alt Delete, and then reboot!
Aye, wee, sleekit, cow'rin', tim'rous beastie,
Of faded plastic, all pale and yeastie
Sitting smugly on your wee mousemat
Ya nae mouse of mine, ya dirty RAT!
But joking aside and suffice to say, the fact that almost 100 people have gathered here on a cold wet Friday night in Dorking to celebrate the life of someone born almost 250 years ago and over 500 miles away is testament indeed to the literary genius that was and indeed still is Robert Burns, the fact that over 90% of those gathered here this evening are Sassenachs must have him laughing his head off!
So perhaps next year we should scrap Burns Night and organise a William Shakespeare Afternoon Tea instead (or even a Jeffrey Archer Champagne and Shepherd's Pie Dinner!?)
Of course not! I guess, once immortal, always immortal, so will you be please be upstanding and join me in a toast to the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns!