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  • Writer's pictureWillie Drennan

The Immortal Rabbie Burns in 2023

Updated: Jan 13


  Immortal Bard: 1759 to 1796 and 2023.

Rabbie Burns is often referred to as the Immortal Bard or at least the Bard of Immortal Memory. What would he think of the state of the world today - in January 2023 - exactly 264 years after his birth?

Rabbie was a complex, fiercely independent free-thinker. So, obviously there will be differences of opinion as to what he would think, believe and say - should he just happen to appear back amongst us in this present day.

Well, I've been fascinated by the works of Burns since I was a teenager and I reckon that gives me some credentials to tell you what I think.

He would surely be still as opinionated on issues of politics, religion and the plight of humanity. In fact, right now in January 2023, he would surely have grave concerns about the plight of humanity – the plight of the people.

During his lifetime he questioned everything in life and in particular he questioned authority. He challenged the hierarchy of Church and State. He questioned and challenged the hierarchy of just about everything. This does not mean he was disloyal or disrespectful. It does not mean he was a rebel or an anarchist. It simply means he naturally questioned everything.

He constantly sought the truth. He cherished freedom and the rights of individuals to question and challenge authority. I firmly believe he would do exactly that if he was alive right now.

In his time he sought fairness and respect for individuals – for all people regardless of creed, social status, religious belief or political view – including those he fundamentally disagreed with. He was tolerant and respectful of other sincerely held opinions. His bottom line, however, was to seriously challenge those in positions of power who abused their power, who deliberately manipulated and withheld the truth from the people.

In his poems and songs he would say things like:

The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,

The man’s the gowd [gold] for a’ that.

The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor, Is king o’ men for a’ that.

Ye see yon birkie ca’d a lord, Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that,

The man o’ independent mind,He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.

A Prince can mak a belted knight, A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that!

But an honest man’s aboon his might –Guid faith, he mauna fa’ that!

For a’ that, an’ a’ that, It’s comin yet for a’ that,

That Man to Man the warld o’er, Shall brithers be for a’ that.

The last lines of this song above [ A Man's a Man for A' That.] highlights his internationalism – in other words, highlights his respect for all humanity: for all people regardless of creed, social status, political view or religious belief. But now, that should not in any way be confused for a desire to see all people of the world united under the control of a One World Government. I say that with conviction as he was passionate about freedom and democracy. And in his passion he clearly could link historic struggles for freedom to the struggles of his time.

In his Ode For General Washington's Birthday [1794] he salutes the new-found freedom in America after the American Revolution. In this poem he also lamented that the same soul of freedom appeared to be currently lacking in the Britain of his time.

[For England]

The bards that erst have struck the patriot lyre

And roused the freeborn Briton's soul of fire

No more, thou England, own.

[For Scotland]

Thee, Caledonia, thy wild heaths amang.

Famed for the martial deed, the heaven-taught sang

To thee I turn with swimming eyes

Where has that soul of freedom fled?

Burns had certainly been sympathetic to the ideals of both the American and French Revolutions, as they sought the souls of their freedom. However, following the French Revolution when the victorious revolutionaries threatened to invade Britain, Burns did not hesitate to defend the freedom of his country and his community. He joined the Dumfries Volunteers who were formed for that purpose . And of course for the Dumfries Volunteers to wrote poems and songs – which included such lines as:

Does haughty Gaul invasion threat

Then let the louns beware sir

There's wooden walls upon our seas

And volunteers on shore sir

The Nith shall rin tae Corsincon

And Criffel sink in Solway

E'er we permit a foreign foe

On British ground to rally

Be Britain still to Britain true

Amang oorsels united

For never but by British hands

Must British hands be righted.

Although in the last lines of this song he felt compelled to once again reference the people.

But while we sing God save the king

We'll ne'er forget the people.

When Burns died in 1796 he was buried with full military honours and procession through the streets of Dumfries.   

Artist: W.E. Lockhart


One of Burns' most powerful songs of freedom was his Scots Wha Hae. This referenced the speech of Robert Bruce to his troops before the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. The lyrics of this song are evocative and rousing – as is the tune that it is set to. It has naturally become a battle hymn for patriotic Scots, some of whom, regrettably, sometimes, seem to confuse the English ruling class of the time with all things English – or even all things British. That's certainly not where Burn's head was at - as his Dumfries Volunteer Song confirms.

Another powerful song of freedom was his Such A Parcel Of Rogues in a Nation. The rogues in this instance were the Scottish ruling-class rogues at the time of the Act of Union between England and Scotland. The song reflects the common feeling among many Scots at the time [1707] that their freedoms and rights were being overridden by the Scottish gentry who were being bought and sold for English gold.

English gold at that time was stored in London vaults. Banks measured their wealth and scope for trade and investment based on the amount of gold they had access to. It was quite different to today's global world of finance where the global rulers appear to just create money on their computers – with no need for gold or silver or oil, or anything to back it up. This made-up money is then distributed and recycled among their friends in governments and corporations across the globe.

So in my way of thinking: if he didn't trust the excessively wealthy and excessively powerful ruling elites of his time; he most  certainly would not be trusting the excessively wealthy and excessively powerful global ruling elites in 2023.

It is not too difficult then, in 2023, for the likes of me, to imagine how the Immortal Bard might still be busy rousing the freeborn Briton's soul of fire- and even the soul of freedom in freeborn people all across this planet. He could address the soul of freedom in these times with just a few strokes of his magic pen or quill. He would just change the odd word here and there and his old songs would have the exact same meaning, relevance and impact as they did back in the day - with something like this maybe?

Oh wud that I had seen the day

That treason thus could sell us

In my heid I hear the auld yins say

I hear what it is they tell us

By pith and power til my last hour

I'll mak this declaration

We're bought and sold for tyrant's gold

Such a parcel of rogues in a nation.

Aye, most of our political leaders, corporate leaders, church leaders and celebrities of today have certainly been bought and sold for that new global gold. There is such an absolute shower of treacherous rogues in all our nations.  

If Robert Burns could be here among us today he would be unable to prevent himself from commenting on other events happening in our world this January. In his absence I will however take the liberty of saying it for him. 

The Deil hissel cudnae a brung thegither a mair sleekit-lukin, jookie-lukin gether-up o beasties an Holy Wullies - aa thegither, aa at yince in the yin congregation.

Willie Drennan - January 2023

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