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Sunday, 25 January 2009

Robert Burns at 250

Today is the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns. An article published today thinks about his legacy. Few poets "last" more than their own lifetime, or even a few decades. To be read, and loved, 250 years later, is extremely rare, and therefore both impressive, and worth thinking about. For the general public, poets who last like Burns are symbols, or emblems, of whole ways of life - they represent, for instance, Scotland, or even joyous living. They can become cliches, that actually block the way forward for new poetry to be equally read and understood.

As the years go by, what gets neglected, in a way, is the poetry itself. Even now, this is happening, I fear, with Yeats. It long ago happened to Tennyson. Fewer people can now recite, from memory, lines or poems by these once-popular figures. As they recede, they become memories and imagos, the figures on the Arundel Tomb, but not the living force. I wonder which, if any, currently living Scottish poet will be so beloved in 2259? Will Burns be displaced, or remain the stopper in the bottle?
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