The half-light of these weary January days will soon be lit up by the linguistic thrills of Burns Night. This international celebration of Robert Burns’ timeless poetry will see millions across the world raise a glass to Scotland’s bard on January 25.
Burns is used by Scots as a frame upon which to hang a tremendous amount of weighty national identity. Upon him they place responsibility as the source of their egalitarian spirit, and of their radicalism. Their socialist leanings too, they expect him to inhabit. Their fondness for a good drink is perhaps the easiest burden for his writing to bear.
As Scotland develops and alters, more and more weight is being borne by this one Ayrshire man. Even his ghost must be growing humpbacked under the strain. Academics and fanatics scratch annually through his letters and works, trying to pin him down as a good unionist, socialist, yes man, Tory. Others look to take him out by labelling him a sexual predator or aspirant slave-owner. This Burnsian battleground shows that Scottish identity can no longer be encompassed in one night nor expressed by one man.
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