Every professional communicator, connector and influencer in the world can learn a few lessons from a Scottish poet who’s been dead for over 200 years.
Every artist in the world today should study a man who, if alive today, would put Kanye, Drake and Chance the Rapper to shame in a battle of lyrics.
Every actor would want to meet him.
Every world leader would want him on side.
Every woman would want to be with him.
And every man would want to be him.
Long before social media, the Internet — Hell — long before telephones — Robert Burns (or Rabbie as he was known) was spreading a message far and wide from country to country. Born in Ayr, Scotland, Burns started as a young lad writing poems to impress girls and ended as the most beloved Scot of all time.
And, today is the day every year — his birthday, January 25th — that we honour him with a Burns Dinner. Today and this past weekend, there have been and will be Robbie Burns night events going on in over 200 countries. There will be bagpipes. There will be scotch. And, of course, there will be the “Address To A Haggis”:
But, I encourage you to look past this one day and the event rituals which some may find unappealing (I personally love ‘modern’ haggis).
Around the world, there are more statues of Burns than any other person from the world of literature — not even Shakespeare comes close.
In fact, if you remove religious figures, only Christopher Columbus has more statues than Robert Burns.
He’s even in Central Park, pen in hand.
Rabbie is proof that the ‘message’ is the most important and lasting aspect of communication — and not the method or vehicle for delivery (i.e. social media).
And, every human being of Scottish ancestry should be beaming with pride today that OUR day is a day to celebrate a person of such charm and intellect. Robert Burns Day is a day where we all recognize our inner misfit, rebel, non-conformist and trouble-maker — with our weapon of choice: words. It’s not flashy. We don’t have cool hats and coloured beer. But, it’s cool. Scottish cool.
I am not really shocked at how few people know anything about Robbie Burns. But, my goal is to help raise the profile.
For example, you know that song you sing at midnight on New Year’s Eve? Robbie Burns.
In a world where imaging has become so important, unfortunately, if you don’t have 1-million followers on Twitter and a Facebook Fan Page — you’re not deemed important.
If Burns were alive today, he’d thrown down a single malt scotch and then rip these people apart in rhyme — the original hardcore rapper, you could say. A lyrical assassin.
You see, Robbie Burns didn’t live long — dying at only 37. But, man he crammed a lot in during that time — something recognized by the Scots themselves — the experts.
Burns is widely known as a poet and writer, the Ploughman Poet to be as exact — and Scotland’s favourite son. You will get those who argue William Wallace…aka Brave heart…is the favourite son. But they’re wrong.
But, in fact, Scottish television recently held the “Greatest Scot” contest and Burns actually beat out William Wallace — which of course brings a whole new meeting to the pen being mightier than the sword.
Beating Wallace in popularity says a lot about Burns given how much the Scots like their scrappers and warriors — yet they still chose a romantic and political poet.
But, maybe that’s the point. Robbie Burns was selected by his countrymen and women because he was much more than a poet.
And, the Scots know this. He was actually a very complex character.
Rabbie was political as a democrat patriot with writings of great nationalism and anti-emigration — he was a radical — and he was prone to like some of the drink.
And, he has been admired and honoured because he was a man of the people –nowhere near being an elitist with claim to money and land.
He came from nothing, worked hard, loved hard, struggled, focused on his talent — and most importantly, he was a man who didn’t allow the powerful to hold him down or marginalize him. That resonates with many of us.
Here’s a short, simple 3-minute primer you could even share with your kids. If you’re looking for more detail, here’s a link to a 90-minute documentary on him.
Instead, these were some of the very things he wrote out against, especially when it came to the English as heard here in “Such A Parcel of Rogues in a Nation”:
What force or guile could not subdue,
Thro’ many warlike ages,
Is wrought now by a coward few
For hireling traitor wages.
The English steel we could disdain,
Secure in valour’s station.
But English gold has been our bane,
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation.
‘Such a parcel of rogues in a nation’ — still resonates today in some regards, doesn’t it? Just ask our American brothers and sisters through their current electoral process.
In many ways, Robert Burns was a journalist, capturing the spirit of 18th century Scotland. And, he very much thought of himself in that manner.
In 1783, he wrote a letter to his former school-master where he said “I seem to be the one sent into the world, to see, and observe.”
And, through his writings, Burns inspired people, not just romantically — but politically. You see, Robert was a working man’s man. And, I can guarantee if he were here today, his mighty pen and wit would make many accountable. I’d say he did pretty well for a guy who grew up in poverty – suffering extreme hardship and having to work very hard in manual labour on the family farm.
So, with all this — what’s to say about future generations knowing the work of Burns?
Never in society have we seen such a dramatic escalation through this technological information revolution. So much, so fast. So much focus on the trivial. How will Robert Burns’ legacy survive this tsunami of digital information?
I have hope that Burns won’t be washed away in the information age. I’m hopeful it will help spread the word of his influence and influence new generations.
Many don’t even know that great political and social movement artists like Bob Dylan have been quoted as saying the single biggest creative influence on his life was the Burns’ 1794 song called “A Red, Red Rose.”
O my Luve’s like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June:
O my Luve’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.
As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:
Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.
And fare thee weel, my only Luve
And fare thee weel, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile
Robert Burns the rebel, the patriot, the truth-speaker, and the hopeless romantic….endearing qualities, I think we’d all agree.
And, oddly enough, even in England, the brunt of many Burns’ writings, there are many celebrations going on, perhaps some of the biggest. In fact, when William Wordsworth, arguably one of the greatest of England’s poets, learned or Rabbie’s death, he wrote:
I mourned with thousands, but as one
More deeply grieved, for he was gone.
Whose light I hailed when first it shone
And showed my youth
How verse may build a princely throne
On humble truth.
Today is a day to honour not only the man who was Robert Burns — but also his spirit, his passion and his courage. We honour his ability to use his literary skills, his arguments, and his pen to sway people — and not weapons, power, and force.
We honour how his passion moved a nation and NATIONS — how he has inspired people from common and humble beginnings by showing them you don’t need a silver spoon in your mouth to achieve greatness.
By comparison, when it comes to today’s so-called pop-culture icons, I highly doubt that 250 years from now, people will be gathering at dinners around the world to celebrate the artistic and political influences surrounding the work of Lady Ga-Ga or One Direction.
Tonight, please raise a glass to Robbie Burns.
The original poet warrior.
A timeless badass.
Scotland’s favourite son.
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