Friday, September 19, 2014

Photo of the Day: Burns, Scots' Pride, in Central Park

For the past two weeks, with all the anticipation about the vote on Scottish independence, I wondered how I could touch on it in this blog. Then I remembered this photo I took of a statue of the Scottish “national poet,” Robert Burns.

"National.” Well, more in consciousness of heritage than diplomatically, following the decisive vote. But I’m sure that something stirs in many a Scot when they come across this bronze statue by Sir John Steell, as I did late this spring, while out on “Literary Walk” in New York’s Central Park. (For another major figure on this walk, see my prior post on William Shakespeare.)

Within two generations of the crushing defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, Burns was writing with wounded pride of his native land in “The Answer”:

“Ev'n then a wish (I mind its power)
A wish, that to my latest hour
Shall strongly heave my breast;
That I for poor auld Scotland's sake
Some useful plan, or book could make,
Or sing a sang at least.”

The short, unhappy life of this precursor of Romantic poetry is one manifestation of what Alastair Reid, in an essay in the Winter 1994 issue of The Wilson Quarterly, termed “The Scottish Condition,” which, he noted, “can show itself fleetingly in the smallest of gestures, a sniff or a sigh, or it can take a voluble spoken form, but it has lurked for a long time in the undercurrents of Scottish life. It wells from ancestral gloom, from the shadows of a severe Calvinism, and from a gritty mixture of disappointment and indignation, and it mantles the Scottish spirit like an ancient moss.”

The Scottish plebiscite this week was, if nothing else, about the power of the wish that Burns noted in his poem above. The England-dominated “United Kingdom” had better be careful that it does not repeat Margaret Thatcher’s mistake in alienating further such a significant part of its country with its economic policies and cold-shoulder attitude.

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