Sunday, January 25, 2009

Robert Burns, poetry, and nationalism

Today is Robert Burns' birthday. Scots in Scotland and all over the Americas, Scots in Australia and a dim corner of Uzbekistan; wherever they may be they celebrate. They celebrate with dinners and speeches. They celebrate with haggis and pipers. They celebrate with Scotch whiskey. But most of all, they celebrate poetry with poetry.

What makes Burns so important? Even a Scot can't articulate precisely the what and how and why. What happened, and what many Scots began to realize when he died, is that this man captured the soul of his people and laid it out before them in all its natural wonder. He did so in language that they not only understood but also used every day. He set it to the music that whispered through their bodies in a manner they couldn't forget. They made him their national poet, even when the people had no definitive nation as such.

Every nation, every people needs a poet who becomes their soul. And especially Canada needs a poet to express the heart and soul of the people. In this time of need, the call is being answered.

Since Al Purdy's death a focus has grown around the poet and what he means and expresses about the people of Canada. He has been acclaimed as the "Voice of the Land." A greater-than-life sized statue of him has been erected in a prominent public place. The home he built out of "second hand lumber and poetry" is the object of a movement to save it for those to come.

A better national poet we could not want, a Robert Burns for us and our times. This movement is rooted much deeper than any personality cult and can become a focus of Canadian culture. an expression of we, the people.

Burns and Purdy

The twenty-first day of April should be Al Purdy Day. Make it so.

1 comment:

annaken said...

Good Morning Jefferson,

Read your entry last night but waited till I was more rested this morning before making a comment.

It is sad that people sometimes have to die before others recognize their work, isn't it?

You gave the example of Robbie Burns and Al Purdy. A very good example indeed.

Having attended a few Burns Supers in Toronto many years ago, I can remember the Scottish attire and the haggis and the haggis being piped in! I tried the haggis once and once was more than enough!!!

Both of these gentlemen were people's poets whose work spoke to the average person, which, in my view, is a practical way to write.

Why write poetry that few people can understand? Not everybody is highly educated with M.A.'s or PHd's.

I agree with you that Canada needs a national poet who can express what is unique in the Canadian people.

I think, we as Canadians, do not blow our own horn enough. We are a talented people, with poets, writers, playwrights, artists aplenty.

Our own talent, as in the case of Al Purdy, should be proclaimed to the rooftop!

Bye the way, I loved your choice of words for this article.