I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion
-From ‘To a Mouse’
Dear Mr. Burns,
These are your words, but I guess you knew that already. I had to borrow them, they are quite good. You managed to make me feel guilty for squirming at the thought of mice running amuck in my quarters. I was surprised, because normally poetry is too abstract for me to digest. But you found a way to play a tune with my heart. Now that, I must say, is what poetry should do.
I know you don’t know me. How could you? You died exactly 200 years before my birth. But here I am, getting to know you, though you be dead.
You may be confused. I mean, thinking about it from your perspective, I would find it strange to receive contact from some future lad saying they adore my writing and know who I am. That may qualify as stalker-ish. Let me assure you, that’s not what this is.
You see, believe it or not, you’re kind of famous. People around the world still celebrate your birthday. You brought Scotland around the globe. You brought people into a language that can be so difficult to unveil. You upheld and solidified a culture tinkering among extinction.
This past Friday, I got to taste what it is you mean to your people. The uni held a Burns Supper in your honor. Upon getting there, I saw my first bagpipe. Did you play those? The brass hum of its distinct tune lingered in the background as a young lassie, with grace, hopped from toe to toe, beat to beat, in a traditional Scottish dance. I imagine you would give her a good looking. From what I hear, you were quite the lady’s man. From what I read, I’m not at all surprised, you do have a way with words.
The night unfolded with vigor. The chef came marching out, the mighty haggis (the traditional plate of Scotland, made of all the “unwanted” parts of a sheep folded into oats) hoisted upon a platter above his head. Bellowing deep into his rugged voice, he serenaded the dish as he plunged his blade into its center. And with that, we all raised our glasses of 12-year-old whiskey with shouting and clapping.
I didn’t get to try the haggis (unfortunately, it wasn’t gluten-free). So I can’t really say you did well in passing that along. But my friends tell me it was delicious. That is, once you get passed its contents. I can say, however, that the songs performed, the poems read, and the dances taught were a glimpse into the richness of the slap-stick, but always loving, nature of Scotts.
Like the words you’ve written, the Ceilidh (a traditional Scottish dance event; pronounced “Kay-lee”) enchanted me. The swinging round and round, the floating of the gentle waltz, the shifting and clapping and stomping. Speed-dating from your own partner to the next lad—almost awkward but the moment gone before it sunk in. Quick and then slow, new but the same. Holding on to what it was but adapting to what you make it. Out of breath, feet raw in pain, but on I danced.
So, Mr. Burns, it was nice meeting you. Thank you for sharing yourself with a piece of paper. Thank you for being brave enough to then share it with another. I look forward to celebrating your birthday again. But until then, cheers to you, Mr. Burns. Cheers to Scotland, to haggis and whiskey, to Ceilidh and bagpipes, lassies and lads, kilts and plaid. Cheers to sharing with each other, our past, our present, our stomachs and laughter.