It’s the Bard’s birthday tomorrow.
He would be 262 years old, which would put him near the top of the Covid vaccination priority list.
We can only wonder what Robert Burns would make of 2021 had he been around today. Would the Ploughman Poet be among those farmers who voted for Brexit?
Would he be “cancelled” by social media for some of his distinctly dodgy behaviour towards women?
Would his love of the “guid auld Scotch drink” be on hold for Dry January?
Would he be appearing on Loose Women to defend himself against trolls for fathering children by umpteen different mothers? Would he be trying to take out an injunction against Jean Armour to stop her telling all?
We can’t really judge an 18th-century writer by the standards of the 21st century, can we? I mean, plenty of those born in the 20th century have struggled to adapt to a post-millennium world where over-randy men can no longer make inappropriate sexual advances without fear of sanction.
One of them still managed to become president of the United States of America, mind you. An extra 200 years of civilisation didn’t do Donald Trump much good.
So we can mark the Bard’s birthday by acknowledging his genius as well as the unpalatable side of his personality.
The fact remains that many of his best lines have resonance today, as a squizz through the news of the week reveals.
Mention “Ye ugly, creepin, blastit wonner, detested, shunn’d by saunt an sinner” and any number of Tories spring to mind. But the classic To A Louse could have been written specially for the current leader of the House of Commons.
Scottish fishermen may be on their knees, they may be desperately clinging on to their livelihood, they may have been hung out to dry by those who assured them of a tippity-top Brexit deal (as if), but Jacob Rees-Mogg sits in Westminster and sneers that at least the fish are happier, ’cause they’re British fish now.
What a “crowlin ferlie” indeed.
Of course, the poem actually refers to an odious creature crawling over a fashionable young woman, who is
completely unaware that everyone around is appalled by what they’re witnessing. Makes you feel itchy, doesn’t it?
Wait a minute, that’s sounds familiar. Oh Melania… if only she’d read a bit more Burns and a bit less OK! magazine. She might have done a runner much earlier if she’d had the “giftie” to “see oursels as ithers see us”.
After Neil Lennon’s bad-tempered outburst last week, he must wish he’d taken heed of the warning in To a Mouse ’cause if that ill-fated trip to Dubai proves anything it’s that “the best laid schemes o’ mice an men gang aft agley”. Oopsie.
Watching his press conference, it was clear Lennon had spent his period of Covid self-isolation in a huff to rival Tam O’Shanter’s missus, “gathering his (her) brows like a gathering storm, nursing his (her) wrath to keep it warm”.
And now we learn, from that leaked civil service video of Professor Jason Leitch, that there’s little point booking a foreign holiday before 2022.
Which is marginally more depressing than the prospect of homeschooling for at least a few more weeks. Anyone else thinking of that line from Ae Fond Kiss: “Me, nae cheerfu’ twinkle lights me; Dark despair around benights me.”
But, after a momentous week when the world was finally rid of the bad joke that was president Donald Trump and his successor, Joe Biden, filled his inauguration speech with a heartfelt call for unity, the hope contained in one of Burns’s most powerful works has seldom seemed more relevant: “That Man to Man the world o’er, shall brothers be for a’ that.”
President Biden can have that inspiration as our gift.
Happy Birthday, Rabbie, from all of us in 2021.
We’ll have a traditional Burns supper in your honour. Well, make mine a veggie haggis. I’m doing Veganuary.