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Robert Burns


“O wad some Power the giftie gie us

To see oursels as ithers see us!”

“It wad frae monie a blunder free us,

An foolish notion;”


These four lines in the last verse of ‘To a Louse’ by our national bard Robert Burns are some of my favourite of all time. I would like to think that a better understanding of ourselves and each other could stop wars, allow for more tolerance, and call time on so much pretentiousness. Tomorrow is Burn’s Day so sharing this with you seems appropriate.

I love the way this poem builds up and then like old age acts as a leveller. Whether you are wealthy or poor makes no difference to a louse and the chance of a meal. I heard something else about our world-famous poet this week. Letters, some sent from him and others received have been collaged. Part of their contents immediately resonated with me.

Robert Burns was advised not to write in Scots. Thankfully, he ignored this advice. His popularity and status today show he was right to stick with what he knew and how he felt.

You could say with conviction that much of the richness of our language has been saved because of his writings and his commitment to his mither tongue. How much would we have lost not only of his work but the depth of the Scot’s tongue if he had written in English?

Why do we not regard ourselves as one of the great writing nations, especially when one of our own is held in such high esteem around the world? We except that Ireland produces good writers but seen unable to hold ourselves in the same regard, yet we have a poet who is world renown who wrote not in English but in Scots.

Regardless of that, we have an abundance of good writers throughout history to the present day that we could call on. Much of their work is recognised and loved by many but somehow it is lost that Scotland has produced these sons and daughters. Robert Louis Stevenson, Adam Smith, Arthur Conan Doyle, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, and what about J M Barrie, Naomi Mitchison, and Muriel Spark to name but a few. I haven’t even mentioned the writer of Wind in the Willows or any of our vastly successful modern crime writers of today.

We are a nation of amazingly good and successful writers but as the quote suggests we have to see ourselves as such, believe we have every right to hold our heads up, and be recognised as having as many acclaimed writers as our cousins from across the Irish Sea.

We need to market ourselves as the nation of creatives that we are. Not put ourselves, our writing, and our languages to the side but proudly use it and stick with it.

Maybe then our collective voices might be heard by those publishers that insist on English as being the language of books. Yet in a way, those books that have been written in Scots and Gaelic have become the guardians of our languages in this day and age where variations of English encircle the world through e-commerce and the internet.

263 years since the birth of our great poet and we are still battling this war of words or more correctly war of languages.

We as a nation have a huge debt of gratitude owed to Robert Burns for his stand on using Scots. His work is recognised throughout the world and has helped to keep an interest in the language alive.

If the rest of the world can recognise the beauty of our languages surely we too should afford our languages that same consideration.

We, readers and writers, need to demand, write and buy more books in our languages maybe then publishers will take note.

Enjoy your haggis suppers and warming nips but above all enjoy the richness of our beautiful languages.

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