Burns & Beyond: the world celebrates a Scottish literary icon

Every year on  25 January, glasses are raised the world over in remembrance of ‘Rabbie’ Burns, the Ploughman Poet. The Bard of Ayrshire holds a special place in the hearts of many, as does his body of work. An icon of the Romantic period, and an inspiration to writers and social revolutionaries alike. His folk songs and love poems are key elements of Scottish iconography, and he is by far the most recognised Scots’ writer.

Following the Christmas period and Hogmanay, this year Johnnie Walker completed its trio of festivals celebrating Scotland’s winter landmarks with ‘Burns & Beyond’. This was a brand new endeavour honouring Burns’ legacy with cultural events throughout Edinburgh. Running from 22 – 27 January, the city was awash with comedy nights, poetry readings, ceilidh’s, and of course the traditional Supper on 25 January.

One such spectacular feature was the Museum of the Moon, which saw the magnificent St Giles Cathedral play host to a spectacular sight: a 7m wide replica of the moon by Luke Jerram. The installation was so impressive it seemed barely contained within the grand interior of the Minster. There, underneath the pale and eerie artificial moonlight, a cornucopia of events had been arranged. Candlelight recitations, moon talks, and rather ambitiously, a melding of Debussy’s ‘Clair de lune’ along with live sounds received from Nasa Space station.

St Giles’ Cathedral was the perfect setting for the Burns & Beyond festival, with a rich history seeped in political and religious upheaval, and an important player in Burns’ legacy as set in the grandiose West Window.This is a magnificent homage to his life and portfolio. Installed in 1985 by public request, this was designed by Icelandic artist Leifur Breidfjord to represent “the three principal themes of the poet’s work – love of nature, love of humanity, and love itself.”

Although often heralded as a champion of Scottish patriotism, Burns represented a lot more than descriptive lyrical celebrations of Haggis. A survivor of poverty and hardship, he was a farmer, a lover, a political commentator. His compositions inspired by the land and language of his inheritance. He was characterised by spontaneity, and tender intensity. His works have survived mostly because of their emotional universality to all, not merely those who speak his dialect. After all, ‘A Man’s a Man for A’ That’.

This seems to be the takeaway of Burns & Beyond, that his legacy extends far outside the boundaries of Scotland. The further one looks into his cultural footprint, the more he seems to be embedded, and ‘Auld Lang Syne’ continues to ring in the bells of the New Year wherever you are in the world. 

 

Image: summonedbyfells via Flickr.

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