Jan 25: Burns's Urban Dictionary and other mystifying adult things

Tonight’s reading is Robert Burns. Immediately there were flashbacks. Didn’t my father (an English teacher) would occasionally throw on his birthday…didn’t he use the Harvard Classics edition? Might I be using one of the few books in this collection that’s been used before?

And, stuck in the cover, is an old ditto (the purple ink, I remember), on the back of which are page numbers for poems he’d read, after everyone had had a bit of the barleycorn, no doubt. I am practically up in my childhood bedroom, hearing that adult talk-and-laughter that’s so mystifying to a child (how can they have that much fun just sitting?) The past is another country…would high school teachers really get together in this day and age for such an evening? It’s no weirder than a book club, really, plus – Scotch. (Although one I think is supposed to frown on Scotch today, especially on school nights.)

I’m tempted to read his page numbers…but the DRG has fewer, so it wins.

I will say that I never know what to write about the poetry, really, except to point out what’s strange about it. I don’t think I’m really capable of offering criticism. Maybe I need a little barleycorn myself to get in the spirit of the thing.

-- First is “To A Mouse,” which I think was in one of my kids’ English books. This is the “the best—laid schemes of mice and men/gang aft agley.” Note that one could be ponderous and note that the line says “schemes,” not “plans.” One will, no doubt.

Earlier in the poem there is this sentiment: “I’m truly sorry man’s dominion,/Has broken nature’s social union,” which is nice. I tend to hate the pastoral fallacy of this kind of thing – Man bad, Nature good – if only because I like vaccinations and stuff. But here, with the plow bisecting the nest, it’s charming. It’s the kind of thing that it the line were later in the poem, so it’s supposed to be the point of the poem, it would be tedious. But here so early it’s like a throwaway line, and like a good throwaway line it gains its force from not being emphasized.

-- “Tam O Shanter” So it’s not just a restaurant in Atwater Village? No, in fact, the restaurant was inspired by the poem. This alone justifies Burns getting a whole volume to himself. Is there a restaurant called “The Waste Land”? No. Suck it, Eliot.

It is 100% infuriating that the HC did not want to mess up its fine design by telling you what the words mean. For instance: “While we sit bousing at the nappy,/An’ getting fou and unco happy.”

Actually, “bousing” “fou” and “unco” could all be on Urban Dictionary. (Not to mention “nappy,” but not in this sense.) Perhaps the secret of Burns’s popularity back in more bibulous times is that you’re practically required to have knocked a few back in order to try to read it aloud.

Also, “Raymond” alert:

Ah, gentle dames! it gars me greet,
To think how mony counsels sweet,
How mony lengthen’d, sage advices,
The husband frae the wife despises!
This premise is timeless, I tell you. I think I’ve already encounted this kind of rolling-pin humor three times in this reading, and its only January. Or is it less that it’s timeless, and more that the Compiler had a difficult marriage?

“bleezing” – also a candidate for the U.D.

For a famous poet, Burns uses feminine rhymes a lot (“awfu’/unlawfu’”), for example. I thought that was only for your light versifiers and your Cole Porters. However, as is pointed out here, Burns doesn’t really care to be Great.

Is this where “Cutty-sark” (who is the name of the hot girl in tha club who almost winds up killing our hero) comes from? Apparently so. One hopes Burns had the rights to all this stuff.

Fun stuff, if you don’t mind flipping to the glossary every three words.

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