Tonight, let memory’s pyre burn bright,
Throw these words to the air like pages to flame, and we’ll honour the life, the work, the name
A legend ever ongoing, a continuous historical flow,
written in ink with sentimental syntax,
searing sighs of Highland lovers and the whisky soaked lows onto time’s whispering papers everlasting.
To our ploughman poet,
Born 1759, the son of a poor Ayrshire farmer
you knew hard work to the letter before you knew a letter of Latin. You knew labour enough to break a man’s back
before you ever cracked the spine of a book.
And because of this, you always kept to the plain and simple,
you saw beauty in the ragged air of breath expelled in hard work,
Burns, you grew up to side with the underdogs.
Champion of the poor, the French Revolution,
the poets, the drunkards, the broken hearts– even if you broke more than a few yourself.
You were Romantic before they gilded it with a capital R
and your prowess with drink and women are what pop music wishes it could be.
In fact, you said you never saw yourself as a writer
with a noteworthy word until you fell in love for the first time– Nelly Kilpatrick at the age of 15.
Your love was a red, red rose, and you had a garden full of roses, Nell only the first in a lavish line of lasses
that ends with Jean. There were many others in between,
but it always came back to Jean,
who bore you nine children, only three of whom survived infancy.
Hard work and pain marked you, but
You left your marks all over this country,
then and there, and here and now,
Burns, your words set fires, spread heat, like a tryst with a good whisky carving small moments
making poetry real and relevant in crowded rooms
in the amber glow of winter nights
honouring everything you were and still are.
Twelve years after love seduced that first stanza from your broiling brain, you were published. July 31st 1786, “Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect by Robert Burns.”
They called your success immediate, like a over a decade of
putting the soul of a nation to paper was light handed work for the faint of heart.
You were anything but.
You said, “dare to be honest and fear no labour”
and you lived that.
You scratched your thoughts into windowpanes with a diamond point because you believed in transparency and truth had a place in poetry.
And truth is, when you died, ploughman poet, you did it like an artist
––young, at 37 years old, to heart disease.
Your lifetime could be measured
in your 559 poems and songs,
the 559 reasons I’m standing here, the 559 pieces to remember you by.
We honour you tonight, with a toast.
To the wit, the women, the whisky and the words that keep the man alive to outlast them all, On his 256th birthday–
To Scotland’s favourite son
To the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns.