Word Cloud: BARD

Word Cloud Resized


Monday, January 25, will be the 257th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns (1759–1796), forever the National Bard of Scotland. A widely celebrated event in his country and in many places around the world known as Burns Night, when many Scots and those of Scots heritage will meet for a Burns Supper.

It is customary at a formal Burns Supper for a speaker to rise after the meal and the first round of recitations to deliver a discourse known as the Immortal Memory. It is not a standard set of words, but instead the speaker’s view of the life and work of Robert Burns. This is both an honor and a responsibility placed upon a member of the company considered an able orator, but the Immortal Memory must also capture the Bard’s wit and humor, and even his bawdy side which shows in the songs like “How can I keep my maidenhead.” For all that he was a child of tenant farmers, and worked the land himself for much of his life, Robert Burns was a very complex man.

Here are just three of his many poems and songs. If you’d like to follow custom — read them aloud.  Don’t let the Scots dialect throw you. Play a bit o’ the pipes music on your machine, take a wee dram of a single malt whisky – lubricates the tongue – an’ hae a’ it.


Scots Wha Hae

Scots, wha hae wi’ Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led;
Welcome to your gory bed,
……….Or to victory!

Now’s the day, and now’s the hour;
See the front o’ battle lour;
See approach proud Edward’s power—
……….Chains and slavery!

Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha can fill a coward’s grave!
Wha sae base as be a slave?
……….Let him turn and flee!

Wha for Scotland’s king and law
Freedom’s sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand, or freeman fa’,
……….Let him follow me!

By oppression’s woes and pains!
By your sons in servile chains!
We will drain our dearest veins,
……….But they shall be free!

Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty’s in every blow!—
……….Let us do or die!


Scots Wha Hae is one of the most famous poems written by Robert Burns, and certainly one of the best expressions of his intense nationalism. This poem is his tribute to Robert the Bruce, who in 1314 roused his troops before the Battle of Bannockburn, for a victory in which Scotland kept its sovereignty against the forces of the Kingdom of England. It also calls up memories of William Wallace, who defeated an English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297.

Scotland’s independence from England ended at the battle of Culloden in 1745, so it was too risky for Burns to openly express such patriotic sentiments, and the poem was originally published anonymously. Scots Wha Hae was quickly set to music, to two different traditional tunes, but the first tune, ‘Hey Tuttie Tatie’ became the standard choice.  It is now the party song of the Scottish National Party, sung at the close of their annual national conferences.


This second poem is “attributed” to Burns – but if he didn’t write it, he collected it.  Either way, it reveals the earthy ribald side of the poet. Even in the 21st century, some readers may find it vulgar, although it’s milder than several other options I scanned. I can see some rousing choruses of these ditties would be popular among hearty-drinking men.

I Rede you beware o’ the Ripples

I rede you beware o’ the ripples, young man,
I rede you beware o’ the ripples, young man;
Tho’ the saddle be saft, ye needna ride aft,
For fear that the girdin’ beguile ye, young man.

I rede you beware o’ the ripples, young man,
I rede you beware o’ the ripples, young man;
Tho’ music be pleasure, tak’ music in measure,
Or ye may want win i’ your whistle, young man.

I rede you beware o’ the ripples, young man,
I rede you beware o’ the ripples, young man;
Whate’er ye bestow, do less than ye dow,
The mair will be thought o’ your kindness, young man.

I rede you beware o’ the ripples, young man,
I rede you beware o’ the ripples, young man;
Gif you wad be strang, and wish to live lang,
Dance less wi’ your arse to the kipples, young man.

Roughly translated:

The refrain — I advise you beware of “aches” in the back and buttocks.

  • Though “the saddle is soft,” you shouldn’t ride too often for fear that the saddling beguile you (too much pleasure  is addicting!)
  • Making too much “music” may cause your “whistle” to run out of wind
  • Whatever you “bestow,” do less than you’re able  (so you don’t wear out your welcome!)
  • If you wish to be strong and live long, “dance ” less with your bum facing up to the rafters.


This last song was sung at the state opening of the new devolved Scottish Parliament on July 1, 1999. Devolution is the transfer of powers from a central to a regional authority. The Scotland Act 1998 (an Act of the UK Parliament) created a Scottish Parliament and passed to it the powers to make laws on a range of issues within the borders of Scotland.

For a’ That and a’ That, also called A Man’s a Man For A’ That, shows us the tenant farmer with the confidence to feel equal in any company, and a glimpse of  an idealistic humanist who sees beyond the borders of his beloved country:

For a’ That and a’ That

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 tho’ on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin-gray, an’ a’ that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine,
A man’s a man for a’ that.
…..For a’ that, an’ 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 riband, star, an’ a’ that,
…..The man o’ independent mind,
…..He looks and laughs at a’ that.

A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that;
But an honest man’s aboon his might,
Guid faith he mauna 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,
May bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
…..For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
…..It’s coming yet, for a’ that,
…..That man to man, the warld o’er,
…..Shall brothers be for a’ that.

  • A poor but honest man should scorn to act like a slave — rank is but the money’s stamp, the man is the real gold.
  • Even eating homely food and wearing poor clothes, an honest man is a king of men compared to fools and cheats in a “tinsel show” of finery. A “birkie” is a wise-ass kid, and a “coof” is a dolt. The riband (ribbon) and star are honors given for his rank, not his value as a man, and an independent thinker will laugh at such show.
  • A prince can raise gentry and nobles to higher ranks, but the common sense and self-worth of a man of integrity puts his value above any that can be conferred by royalty.
  • We should pray that, whatever comes, that sense and worth over all the earth should “bear the gree” — take the victory prize — it’s coming yet, that man to man, all men shall be brothers.

As a subtle gesture which expressed the new Parliament’s determination to take full advantage of its powers, while still calling for brotherhood with England, Sheena Wellington’s moving singing of For a’ That and a’ That was a masterstroke.

The spirit of Robert Burns remains an abiding force in modern Scotland.

To the Immortal Memory!


Thank you for reading this week’s Word Cloud.


Sources and Further Reading:



Scottish History, Customs and Dialect:

  • Battles of Stirling Bridge, Bannockburn and Culloden —  http://www.rampantscotland.com/features/battles.htm
  • Burns Night and Burns Supper  — http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/12083529/What-is-Burns-Night-and-when-is-it. — htmlhttp://www.visitscotland.com/about/robert-burns/supper  —http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/robertburns/burns_night_running_order.shtml
  • Dictionary of the Scots Language — http://www.dsl.ac.uk/


  • detail from “The Battle of Bannockburn” painting by Brian Palmer
  • detail from “The Merry Couple” painting by Jan Steen
  • detail from a painting of Robert Burns by Alexander Nasmyth
  • Burns Supper fare: The Haggis, with bashit neeps (mashed rutabagas)  and champit tatties (mashed potatoes)


About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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6 Responses to Word Cloud: BARD

  1. Eddi Reader is one of the great modern interpreters of Burns’ songs. He truly loved the ladies, and it was reciprocated, from all accounts. Some of his greatest songs were love songs. This is one my wife loved. She often sat at the organ in the evening and played My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose.

  2. wordcloud9 says:

    Thank you Chuck for sharing this lovely version of one of his most beautiful songs.

    With so many poems and songs written by Burns, it’s hard to cover all the aspects of his character in a single article. I decided to focus on his continuing relevance in modern Scotland – with just a bit of his rollicking fun thrown in!

  3. You are right. Trying to pick a good Burns quote is like trying to select something from Shakespeare. There is something for every occasion, and with such a huge output, one hardly knows where to start.

  4. Lovely.

    Since the Bard was invoked and my knowledge of his work is far greater than my knowledge of Burns, let me share a quote. True, picking a favorite quote is like picking a favorite child, but let me share one that is not dialog but rather a stage direction. A reminder that Groucho Marx didn’t invent surrealistic whimsy (although he may have taken it to new levels). It’s a direction I’ve oft thought of this electoral season, mostly in hope of seeing it in action.

    “Exit, pursued by a bear.” – The Winters Tale

  5. Burns:

    O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us.

    From To A Louse

  6. wordcloud9 says:

    LOL – Gene, you picked my favorite stage direction in Shakespeare, and Chuck has chosen one of my favorite quotes from Burns – although as you say, how could one ever chose just one from either of these two?

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