Sunday, November 19, 2017

Interesting and beautiful stuff

Now Westlin Winds

Rabbie Burns.

Where to start with sampling the wonderful music of Robert Burns?  One of his most beautiful songs is "Now Westlin Winds",  written quite early in his career with the first ever draft of it appearing in his notebook in 1783.

Here is Burns as an observer of nature but not in the remote Byron or Wordsworth style but as one who made his living from the land.  This was a man who clearly had soil beneath his fingernails. He takes a swipe at the sporting slaughter of his beloved wildlife as well as giving us a most tender of love songs. 

Burns at this point in his life was besotted with Jean Armour,  but her father who greatly disapproved of Burns forbade the match. So here Burns pens his song to "Peggy".  This was Peggy Thomson who was the most beautiful girl in his school class and distracted Rabbie from his studies!  But be in no doubt that this song was penned for Jean Armour. The first draft of the song in his notebook has the line "An’ the moon shines bright when I rove at night, To muse on *.  That asterisk was his code in his writing for Jeannie Armour.

Of course with Burns there is always the ambiguity in his prose.  Is this Burns as an admirer or a seducer?  You decide.

Here it is sung by the great folk singer,Dick Gaughan who does ample justice to this most poignant of songs.

Now westlin winds and slaughtering guns
Bring autumn's pleasant weather
The moorcock springs on whirring wings
Among the blooming heather
Now waving grain, wild o'er the plain
Delights the weary farmer
And the moon shines bright as I rove at night
To muse upon my charmer
 
The partridge loves the fruitful fells
The plover loves the mountain
The woodcock haunts the lonely dells
The soaring heron the fountain
Through lofty groves the cushat roves
The path of man to shun it
The hazel bush o'erhangs the thrush
The spreading thorn the linnet
 
Thus every kind their pleasure find
The savage and the tender
Some social join and leagues combine
Some solitary wander
Avaunt! Away! the cruel sway,
Tyrannic man's dominion
The sportsman's joy, the murdering cry
The fluttering, gory pinion
 
But Peggy dear the evening's clear
Thick flies the skimming swallow
The sky is blue, the fields in view 
All fading green and yellow
Come let us stray our gladsome way
And view the charms of nature
The rustling corn, the fruited thorn
And every happy creature
 
We'll gently walk and sweetly talk
Till the silent moon shines clearly
I'll grasp thy waist and, fondly pressed,
Swear how I love thee dearly
Not vernal showers to budding flowers
Not autumn to the farmer
So dear can be as thou to me
My fair, my lovely charmer

 

A Man's a Man...

A man's a man for aw that

As I am posting this on the weekend of St Andrew's Day we should acknowledge Burns "A man's a man".

The message in the uncanny directness and simplicity of this song is one of universal fraternity. It openly exemplifies Burn's sympathy with the Masonic notion of Brotherhood (Burns became a Freemason in 1781). Written in 1795, it also symbolises, in line with the radical spirit of Thomas Paine's `Rights of Man',  Burns' almost revolutionary support for the idea of general social reform. In the simplest terms, this enduring song is Burns' cri-de-coeur for the universal recognition of talent, wit and intelligence over bloated rank and privilege. It still speaks of a Scotland to which we aspire.

Performed here by the incomparible Corries.

Is there for honest Poverty 
That hings his head, an' a' that; 
The coward slave-we pass him by, 
We dare be poor for a' that! 
For a' that, an' a' that. 
Our toils obscure an' a' that, 
The rank is but the guinea's stamp, 
The Man's the gowd for a' that. 
 
What though on hamely fare we dine, 
Wear hoddin grey, an' a that; 
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine; 
A Man's a Man for a' that: 
For a' that, and a' that, 
Their tinsel show, an' a' that; 
The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor, 
Is king o' men for a' that. 
 
Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord, 
Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that; 
Tho' hundreds worship at his word, 
He's but a coof for a' that: 
For a' that, an' a' that, 
His ribband, star, an' a' that: 
The man o' independent mind 
He looks an' laughs at a' that. 
 
A prince can mak a belted knight, 
A marquis, duke, an' a' that; 
But an honest man's abon his might, 
Gude faith, he maunna fa' that! 
For a' that, an' a' that, 
Their dignities an' a' that; 
The pith o' sense, an' pride o' worth, 
Are higher rank than a' that. 
 
Then let us pray that come it may, 
(As come it will for a' that,) 
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth, 
Shall bear the gree, an' a' that. 
For a' that, an' a' that, 
It's coming yet for a' that, 
That Man to Man, the world o'er, 
Shall brothers be for a' that.
 

The Night Mail

A treat for those of a certain age!  This film was made in 1936 to promote the London, Midland and Scottish Railway. It was set to the poem written especially by WH Auden and narrated by John Grierson. A bygone age.

Evocative in every way for steam travel, Auden's poetry and Stuart Legg and John Grierson's fine voices.