Listeners and viewers of the BBC Broadcast newsmedia for Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th January could hardly havge failed to notice the general hype and food frenzy around the big Robert Burns Revival, especially scheduled north of the Border, to mark the 250th anniversary of the poet’s birth. As Burns Night revellers recover from a surfeit of Single Malt and ablow out of Neeps and Tatties little attention appears to be being paid to how much we don’t know about the poet, and how much we actually do.
Although some pretty good and representative coverage of Burns’s literary output was given in the 250th Anniversary ‘Poetry Please’ special, broadcast on Radio 4 on sunday afternoon, comparatively little attention appears to have been paid to the original source materials that were to inspire him. For example, how many listeners would have been made aware of the fact that many of Burns’s best known poems and lyrics were composed to the tune of some of Scotland’s best known traditional folk melodies?
And, how much attention was actually paid to the fact that, in his own lifetime, Burns was as famous for his contribution to collecting and preserving obscure traditional songs and ballads as he was to writing poetry? Of particular interest on this last matter was Burns’s recovery, and use, of a verse from one of England’s best known traditional folk songs for use in his one of his own early attempts at versification, in a work entitled ‘A Ploughman’s LIfe’.
The particular significance of these last mentioned facts is that this little known work of the Alloway poet links him to some of England’s best known preservers of Sussex Folk Song, the Copper Family, whose version of ‘The Lark in the Morning’ can be shown conclusively to have some sort of a connection with the original verses with which Burns’s ‘Ploughman’s Life’ would seem to have some sort of a link.
For more about this, and a number of other links between Scotland the the Copper Family Tradition, go to: