Saturday, 23 January 2010

Some drops of joy with draughts of ill between

Flu (now abating) has prevented me from going to my friend's Burns supper tonight. It was the first I'd ever been invited to. Viewing the exotic running order (below; anonymised) I'm more disappointed than I can say that I'm not well enough to go.
Bebington Burns bash

An explanation – E
A Toast – M
Poem – Jock and Jean – J
Song – A red red rose – A
Selkirk Grace – M

Soup: Lentil and carrot or Tattie and leek

Poem – The Snaman – J
Song – A Man’s a man – A
Poem – The death of Joy Gardner – E
Enter the Haggis – D
Address – The Haggis – A

The Main Event: Haggis Neeps and Rumpletietumps (and alternatives)

Song – Freedom come a ye – A
Poem - The mask of Anarchy – E

Pudding: Scottish sweeteners and Craggle whimpies

Songs and poems
The Shafrans
Anybody else
Song - Auld lang syne - Everybody
My friend lives on the Wirral, the rectangle of land between the Mersey and Dee rivers. She lived in Scotland long enough, however, to acquire a Scottish boyfriend and the Burns supper habit.

From the schedule you can see that the Burns theme is interpreted loosely when it comes to the choice of poems. My friend has chosen a poem by Benjamin Zephaniah about the death in police custody of a 40-year-old Jamaican immigrant, Joy Gardner. Robert Burns died young too, aged 37, which might be one connection here with the poet.

Burns is celebrated as a champion of poor Scots and debunker of totalitarian government and religious oppression, but a recent - controversial - book questioned whether Burns was all that committed to the anti-slavery cause and said that he toyed with the idea of going to work as a manager - a slave driver - on a plantation. Perhaps that's why my friend chose this poem about a black woman, a descendant of slavery; more likely it was because it reminds us that there is still always an underdog, and that they can find themselves, disastrously, at the mercy of the state.

I am not a Burns aficionado, and have only managed a quick shuffty through some of his shorter poems to convey my own sickbed emotions today. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek I offer you now the first stanza of a poem in Burns' book “Misgivings in the Hour of Despondency and Prospect of Death”.

Why am I loth to leave this earthly scene?
How I so found it full of pleasing charms?
Some drops of joy with draughts of ill between:
Some gleams of sunshine ‘mid renewing storms:
Is it departing pangs my soul alarms?
Or Death’s unlovely, dreary, dark abode?
For guilt, for guilt, my terrors are in arms;
I tremble to approach an angry God,
And justly smart beneath his sin-avenging rod.

No comments: