August 5: Burns: The evil men do

Any time is a good time to pimp the scenic wonders of the Mohawk Valley.

When I saw that today's reading was more Robert Burns I made that sound you make in your throat when you turn down a side street as a shortcut and there's a big huge truck blocking your way. Gghhhgh. But that got me to thinking (which at some level may be the point of this whole exercise) like so:

1. I'll never understand the Burns love of the Harvard Classics people, and, I take it, their intended audience.

2. But I do understand their prejudices. As I imagine them, anyway -- I think of the Harvard administration of being excited when electricity came in so that they could buy a big light-up NINA sign. Which is a huge prejudice of my own, hence my understanding of it. Everyone's a little bit racist, like they say in "Avenue Q".

So (and here's the big leap)...

3. Does evil make more sense than good? Like, the atrocities of the Belgians in the Congo are easily imaginable to me; my own country is hardly blameless, and I'm typing this on a computer assembled in China; I'm probably tasting the fruit of atrociousness right now. But why they thought putting their women in bustles looked good I'll never know.

Or think about Adam and Eve. God puts a tree in the garden and says, "This fruit will give you superpowers. Don't eat it." Crazy, right? And then the Devil comes and says, "You know one thing about superpowers? They make you feel super," which is perfectly clear and comprehensible, and before you know it -- bam! we sinnèd all.

This is a little slippery, I realize, because evil is a moral category, and a (puzzling, well-nigh incomprehensible) fondness for Burns is aesthetic, in a way. But, under this formula, the fact that my argument doesn't make any sense proves how good it is.

And "The Cotter's Saturday Night" cannot bear this analysis anyway, for it's a poem about the simple cottage-dwelling folk, far superior to you or me, who have, outside of their bairns, very little, but are happy for a' that:
But now the supper crowns their simple board,
The halesome parritch, chief of Scotia’s food;
The sowp their only hawkie does afford,
That, ’yont the hallan snugly chows her cood:
Porridge for dinner. Virtuous or not, you know the bairns lit out for Glasgow first chance they got. And why, in a poem about the "simple" pleasures, is Scotland referred to by its Latin name?

Burns, as I think I noted last time, is the kind of poet who would write for the newspapers, if newspapers still printed poems, or if there were newspapers to print poems in.

0 comments: