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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us

25 January

Robbie Burn's Night

O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us
It wad frae monie a blunder free us
An' foolish notion
What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us
An' ev'n Devotion


Oh, that God would give us the very smallest of gifts
To be able to see ourselves as others see us
It would save us from many mistakes
and foolish thoughts
We would change the way we look and gesture
and to how and what we apply our time and attention.

These lines are from Robbie Burn's poem
To a Louse
where he records the shame of a lady in church
who is unaware that a large louse
is crawling around on her new hat, a Lunardi
-the height of the fashion in 1785.

The poet chastises the louse for not realising how important his host is,
and then reflects that, to a louse, we are all equal prey,
and that we would be disabused of our pretensions
if we were to see ourselves through each others' eyes.

Bishop John Geddes

One of Burns’ most enthusiastic admirers was Dr John Geddes,
Catholic bishop and Vicar Apostolic for the Lowlands.
He was the elder brother of the biblical critic and priest Alexander Geddes,
also known to Burns.
John and Alexander Geddes knew something of the harsh, rural life that Burns had lived:
the two brothers had been junior seminarians at Scalan,
a tiny (illegal) house of formation near Glenlivet,
Diocese of Aberdeen,
for lads destined for the priesthood.
They wore the kilt, lived on salmon and porridge,
and washed in an icy stream each morning,
in a valley surrounded by moutains where,
according to Alexander,
the sun never shone.
More about Robbie Burns and Bishop Geddes here.

To a Louse

Ha! Whare ye gaun, ye crowlin ferlie?
Ha! Where are you going, you crawling wonder?
Your impudence protects you sairly,
Your impudence protects you sorely,
I canna say but ye strut rarely
I can not say but you swagger rarely
Owre gauze and lace,
Over gauze and lace,
Tho' faith! I fear ye dine but sparely
Though faith! I fear you dine but sparingly
On sic a place.
On such a place.

Ye ugly, creepin, blastit wonner,
You ugly, creeping, blasted wonder,
Detested, shunn'd by saunt an' sinner,
Detested, shunned by saint and sinner,
How daur ye set your fit upon her --
How dare you set your foot upon her -
Sae fine a lady!
Such fine a lady!
Gae somewhere else and seek your dinner
Go somewhere else and seek your dinner
On some poor body.
On some poor body.

Swith! in some beggar's hauffet squattle:
Off! in some beggar's temples squat:
There you may creep, and sprawl, and sprattle
There you may creep, and sprawl, and scramble,
Wi' ither kindred, jumping cattle,
With other kindred, jumping cattle,
In shoals and nations;
In shoals and nations;
Whare horn nor bane ne'er daur unsettle
Where horn nor bone never dare unsettle
Your thick plantations.
Your thick plantations.

Now haud you there! ye're out o' sight,
Now hold you there! you are out of sight,
Below the fatt'rils, snug an' tight;
Below the falderals, snug and tight;
Na, faith ye yet! ye'll no be right,
No, faith you yet! you will not be right,
Till ye've got on it ---
Until you have got on it ---
The vera tapmost, tow'ring height
The very topmost, towering height
O' miss's bonnet.
Of miss's bonnet.

My sooth! right bauld ye set your nose out
My sooth! right bold you set your nose out,
As plump an' grey as onie grozet:
As plump and gray as any gooseberry:
O for some rank, mercurial rozet,
O for some rank, mercurial resin,
Or fell, red smeddum,
Or deadly, red powder,
I'd gie ye sic a hearty dose o't,
I would give you such a hearty dose of it,
Wad dress your droddum!
Would dress your breech!

I wad na been surpris'd to spy
I would not have been surprised to spy
You on an auld wife's flainen toy:
You on an old wife's flannel cap:
Or aiblins some bit duddie boy,
Or maybe some small ragged boy,
On's wyliecoat;
On his undervest;
But Miss's fine Lunardi! fye!
But Miss's fine balloon bonnet! fye!
How daur ye do't.
How dare you do it.

O Jenny, dinna toss your head,
O Jenny do not toss your head,
An' set your beauties a' abread!
And set your beauties all abroad!
You little ken what cursed speed
You little know what cursed speed
The blastie's makin!
The blastie's making!
Thae winks an' finger-ends, I dread,
Those winks and finger-ends, I dread,
Are notice takin'!
Are notice taking!

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
O would some Power the gift to give us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
To see ourselves as others see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us,
It would from many a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion:
And foolish notion:
What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us,
What airs in dress and gait would leave us,
An' ev'n devotion!
And even devotion!


Holly Hall said...

A very nice poem, full of rich lessons; I truly appreciate your sharing it! I sometimes think there is a lesson for eternity in everything and everyone around us; we will find it if we only know how to listen!

Peter Simpson said...

A Happy Burn's Night to you all! Do you have a Burn's Night Supper on Papa Stronsay (haggis, neaps and tatties)? Do you have a favourite malt whisky - or are you all teetotal? I hope you can cope with such deeply spiritual questions!

Anonymous said...

That poem conveys the very music of a Scottish lilt. I love it!

Anne (aussieannie) said...

My six children and I loved it!!

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