Since no one signed up for the first week of blog posts, I’ll be taking this one on. And actually that works out kind of well, because I can give you an example of what a blog post might look like with the material we’ve been introduced to so far in this course.
I introduced both of these videos to you guys on Thursday morning, and I thought I’d touch on them again (since I have a little more time here). The first is a version by Scottish folk singer Ewan McLennan (from 2010) and the other is a version led by another Scottish folk singer Shenna Wellington during the re-opening of the Scottish Parliament (after over 200 years of it being dissolved!) in 1999.
(start at 2:22)
I wanted to focus on the first stanza in this reading, but feel free to broaden the discussion to the rest of the poem. Burns contrasts “honest poverty” with the “coward slave” (1, 3), who seems to be an “enslaved” member of the rich elite–one of the “fools” (11), “knaves” (11), or “cuffs” (20), that Burns refers to in later lines. This coincides nicely with the poem’s themes of reversal–titles cannot make the “king of men” in the way that “honest[y]” can (16, 15). But if this poem was written during a time when slavery was still legally participated in by the UK, and if Burns himself once considered working as a bookkeeper on a plantation in Jamaica, what do we make of the epithet “coward slave”, even if it is being used in a more metaphorical sense? Does there still seem to be an insidious structure of power in this poem, one that contrasts the “honest poor” with the “coward slave”? http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/scotland–slavery-949801
Or does the vision at the end of the poem, of “man to man the world o’er” as “brothers” include the emancipation of slaves and the abolition of the slave-trade?
Basically, what is this word doing here, with all of the problematic resonances that it still carries (and would have carried in a very particular kind of way during a time when slavery was not yet outlawed)?
Does this change the way we look at the poem now, as a that seems to be about emancipation and the brotherhood of man?
- Feel free to expand on (or challenge!) any of the claims I’ve made in this post. Be sure to include evidence from the poem!
- How does the refrain “an’ a’ that” function in the poem? What effect does it create, and how does that change depending on what it is referring to?
- Why is Burns writing in a Scottish dialect? Isn’t that exclusionary? (It does make it more difficult for a reader who is not familiar with Scottishidioms and pronunciation, doesn’t it? How does this change the way we might look at the last lines, then, that seem to be arguing for some kind of universality?) How might this relate to the content of the song? And what other lines/phrases/words reflect this relationship (or tension)?
- When “asked to name the lyric or verse that has had the biggest effect on his life,” Bob Dylan chose another poem by Rabbie Burns–“A Red, Red Rose.”
Are there other Dylan songs that you can link us to that seem to formally, stylistically, or content-wise reflect “Is there for honest poverty”? Where would you locate that similarity in both? How are they different, and what might that mean?