Monday, January 25, 2010

Of Mice and Men

Around the world tonight Scots and would-be Scots are toasting Robert Burns, contemplating haggis, either in fact or as an idea, and reading or singing Burns lyrics. I kind of wish I were among them. It's Robert Burns's birthday today and one birthday that's really celebrated, with a Burns Supper and with music and recitation and a fire in a hearth. That's the way to do a birthday.

I can't pretend to be a Burns acolyte. I'm a bit on the outside, peering through the window, a tad enviously, at the gathering, but it's one of those attention-must-be-paid occasions. You don't want to be belated about January 25. Ben Franklin it's okay. He doesn't have that soulfulness that makes the day go down a little deeper. To miss it is a bit like the anonymous someone neglecting to leave the rose and the cognac at Poe's grave in Baltimore. Which happened on the 19th this year for the first time since the tradition started in 1949.

Today had a Burnsian quality about it, too, especially after midday. A spattering, wind-driven rain lashing against the windowpanes for hours. Calling to mind the phrase, "a night not fit for man nor beast," which is reminiscent of the "wee, sleekit, cow'rin' tim'rous beastie" of "To a Mouse." And the immortal lines: "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley". And even earlier, setting that up:

Thou saw the fields laid bare an' waste,
An' weary winter comin fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro' thy cell.

Man, beast, weary winter, cozy cell, and crash! comes the cruel plow, earthquake, election, and what's left but to gather together with soulmates and toast the poet and the 25th of January. Happy birthday, Robbie.

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