Mah Grannie's faimily came fae Falkirk, thay wirked in the ironwirks fur generations - hou Burns saw it wis wrang, he didnae e'en git in.
Morgan on the ither haund saw Burns and his pertenshuns fur whit they wur; a perfect analogy fur romantic Nationalism aginst Paitriotism.
Roberts Burns, impromptu on Carron Iron works, 1787Burns? Jist a cockapentie, nou try this:
We cam na here to view your warks
In hopes to be mair wise,
But only, lest we gang to Hell,
It may be nae surprise.
But when we tirl'd at your door
The porter dought na bear us:
Sae may, should we to Hell's yetts come,
Your billie Satan sair us.
Edwin Morgan, James Macfarlan, 1997
"A man's a man for a' that" – how does he know?
Traipsing with his plough, the rural hero,
Swaggering down the lea-rigs, talking to mice,
Sweating his sickly verses to entice
Lassies he'd never see again, strutting
Through the salons in his best breeches, rutting
In a cloud of claret, buttonholing
Lord This, sweet-talking Doctor That, bowling
His wit down levees, bosoms, siller quaichs –
D'ye think he's ever heard the groans and skraighs
Of city gutters, or marked the shapes that wrap
Fog and smoke about them as if they could hap
Homelessness or keep hunger at bay? What,
Not heard or seen, but has he even thought
How some, and many, and more than many, survive,
Or don't survive, on factory floors, or thrive
Or fail to thrive by foundry fires, or try
To find the words – sparks scatter and bolts fly –
That's feeble – to show the new age its dark face?
The Carron Ironworks – how he laughed at the place,
Made a joke of our misery, passed on
To window-scratch his diamond-trivia, and swan
Through country-house and customs-post, servile
To the very gods from which he ought to resile!
"Liberty's a glorious feast," you said.
Is that right? Wouldn't the poor rather have bread?
Burns man, I'm hard on you, I'm sorry for it.
I think such poetry is dangerous, that's all.
Poetry must pierce the filthy wall
With cries that die on country ways. The glow
Of bonhomie will not let the future grow.
'James Macfarlan' is part of the sequence 'The Five-Pointed Star', five monologues about Robert Burns. The other voices are Catherine the Great, Sir James Murray (first editor of the Oxford English Dictionary), Franz Kafka and 'An Anonymous Singer of the 21st Century'. The poems were written for the bicentenary of Burns' death in 1996.
James Macfarlan (1832-1862) was the son of an Irish pedlar. He published three books of verse, and eked out a living writing for newspapers and magazines. A heavy drinker, he joined the temperance moved in 1860 but died in poverty two years later.
Robert Burns visited the Carron Ironworks in August 1787. Refused admission, he scratched a verse on the window of a nearby inn.
[Ref: Edwin Morgan Archive]