in nights of Auld Lang Syne – Rabbie Burns, a Great Scot

January 25

Lang syne, in Eden’s happy scene

When strappin Adam’s days were green,

And Eve was like my bonie Jean

My dearest part,

A dancin’ sweet, young handsome quean,

O’ guileless heart

–from Address to the Devil

(unpublished version)

Robert Burns

Without ever picking up a sword or musket, Burns became a national hero of the Scots. His weapon was the pen. His ammunition the Scottish language. (Yes, they have their own language).

Even in Burns’ day the Scots language (a collection of dialects such as Doric, Buchan Claik, and Lallands) had lost favor with the upper crust. The 1707 Treaty of Union had united Scotland with England to form the Kingdom of Great Britain, and the new establishment, for fear of sounding provincial, distanced themselves from the ‘auld’ dialects. English became the de facto language in education, and the language itself was blending with that of their neighbors to the south.

Robert (Rabbie) Burns entered the world on this day, 1759. His father was a gardener and an unsuccessful farmer, but he managed to secure an education for Robert, the first of his seven children at the village school.

“Forming a bachelors’ club and debating society at Tarbolton, young Robert became a Freemason, worked as a flax dresser in Irvine and enjoyed an active social and sexual life.”

The Canongate Burns By Andrew Noble

After his father’s death, Rabbie was forced to return to farming to support the family. It was during these years that he wrote some of his most famous poetry. (And conducted some of his more fruitful love affairs.) He also scoured the countryside collecting the traditional folk songs of his people, which would have otherwise been lost to history. His collection, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect earned him rapid fame, but not fortune.

Unlike the born-wealthy poets of his day, Burns earned very little from his writing. He continued to farm, and when the farm failed, he became an excise officer in Dumfries. His romantic, radical, idealist persona fostered by his works did not always match his life. Burns is often described as having a “weak heart,” but this did not dim his sexual escapades. He bore numerous prodigy by several women, including his long-suffering wife, Jean Armour, who bore their last child together on the day of his funeral.

from Bonie Jean: A Ballad

There was a lass, and she was fair,

At kirk or market to be seen;

When a’ our fairest maids were met,

The fairest maid was bonie Jean…

…As in the bosom of the stream,

The moon-beam dwells at dewy e’en;

So trembling, pure, was tender love

Within the breast of bonie Jean…

Burns passed at age 37 in 1796, leaving behind a romantic image of himself no man could match and a country beaming with nostalgic pride.

The first Burns’ Night was held five years after Burns’ death by a group of his close friends. They celebrated as Scots around the world will celebrate tonight:

Invite good friends, toast to Rabbie, roast said friends, drink heartily, savor the traditional haggis (everyone’s favorite) and recite the Bard’s immortal verse.

from A Bard’s Epitaph…

…Is there a man, whose judgment clear

Can others teach the course to steer,

Yet runs, himself, life’s mad career,

Wild as the wave,

Here pause–and, thro’ the starting tear,

Survey this grave

from Scots Wha Hae (unofficial Scottish anthem)

…’Wha, for Scotland’s king and law,

Freedom’s sword will strongly draw,

Freeman stand, or Freeman fa’,

Let him on wi’ me!

By Oppression’s woes and pains!

By your sons in servile chains!

We will drain our dearest veins,

But they shall be free!

Lay the proud usurpers low!

Tyrants fall in every foe!

Liberty’s in every blow!

Let us do or dee!

from Auld Lang Syne

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn

Frae morning sun till dine;

But seas between us braid hae roar’d

Sin’ auld lang syne…


We two have waded in the stream

From dawn till dinner time;

But seas between us broad have roared

Since days of long ago…

On Marriage

That hackney’d judge of human life,

The Preacher and th King,

Observes: “The man that gets a wife

He gets a noble thing.”

But how capricious are mankind,

Now loathing, now desirous!

We married men, how oft we find

The best of things will tire us!

from A Poet’s Welcome to His Love-Begotten Daughter

(The First Instance that entitled him to the Venerable Appellation of Father)

Tho’ now they ca’ me fornicator,

An’ tease my name in kintry clatter,

The mair they talk, I’m kent the better,

E’en let them clash;

An auld wife’s tongue’s a feckless matter

To gie ane fash…

from A Red, Red Rose

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,

So deep in luve am I;

And I will luve thee still, my dear,

Till a’ the seas gang dry…

Full poem recited (with sexy accent!)

Links and Info: – a Poet for All Men

Index of Burns’ Work – read it

Robert Burns Club of Milwaukee – all-encompassing resource

How to Organize a Burns Supper – celebrate it

Bay Area Bites – Burns Night – San Francisco – eat it

New York City Haggis – NYC – eat it

Once Upon a Time in the West of Scotland – a different view

Burns Night – reflections on his poetry

A Red, Red Rose – hear it

Whisky Please – drink it

Burns Supper Report – An American Toast in Scotland

Address to a Haggis – youtube

Dragon Boat Festival

5th day of 5th lunar month
June 23, 2012
June 6, 2011
June 16, 2010;

Dragon Boats

Duanwu is often called Double Fifth, because it falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month of the Chinese calendar, but it’s more commonly referred to as the Dragon Boat Festival, after its most famous annual event.

Almost as famous are the delicious special foods prepared for this date. The traditional dish, zongzi, is a triangular rice ball stuffed with sweet or savory fillings, and wrapped in bamboo leaves. The Duanwu beverage of choice is a special realgar yellow rice wine.


The inspiration for the holiday comes from the death of one of China’s first great poets, Qu Yuan. Qu Yuan was a political advisor in the late forth century BC who urged his king to unite with other kingdoms against the rising state Qin. However, jealous and corrupt political opponents counseled the king against the advice of Qu Yuan, who was accused of treason and forced into exile. It was during this exile that Qu Yuan traveled the country gathering and recording local folklore and legends.  When Qin did eventually attack and capture the capital city of Ying, Qu Yuan composed one of his greatest works, “Lament for Ying”. He then committed suicide by tying himself to a rock and jumping into a river.

The local fishermen tried to keep the fish from eating Qu Yuan’s body by throwing food into the water. Over time this became a tradition. Later a legend gained credence that Qu Yuan was killed by a great underwater dragon.


Qu Yuan

The Maoist government banned celebrations of Duanwu in 1949. It wasn’t until only a few years ago that the Chinese government officially reinstated three of the country’s most popular holidays: Tomb Sweeping Day, Mid-Autumn Festival and Duanwu.

Shakespeare and World Book Day

April 23

Hamlet, Don Quixote and Lolita walk into a book…

Ok, so when your oh-so-sophisticated city friends are hobnobbing at tonight’s World Book Day soiree, you—you who fell asleep watching Pride & Prejudice because you were too lazy to read the book in English class—can wow them with this little-known literary anomaly.

It is one of the literary world’s most bizarre coincidences that Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare, each perhaps the greatest writer is his respective language, died on the exact same date: April 23, 1616.

Strange as that is, it gets much stranger. Despite dying on exact the same date, the two legendary scribes died over 200 hours apart.


Who died first?


Of course Cervantes died first. And you know this because you’ve been reading about the evolution of the European calendar on

Or because you had a 50-50 chance and guessed right.

Either way, the real question is, how is this possible?

William Shakespeare Miguel de Cervantes

So how could Cervantes and Shakespeare die ten days apart if they died on the same date?

Though Spain and English were using a similar calendar back in the 17th century, Spain had already converted to the Gregorian Calendar. Back in the 1500s, astronomers noticed that over the course of 1500 years the Julian Calendar had veered from the solar year by approximately ten days. To fix this they added a new rule — no leap days in years that end in 00*. And to offset the ten days they’d swayed, the Gregorian Calendar simply “skipped” 10 days. (ie., one day in 1582, Italians and Iberians went to bed on October 4 and woke up on October 15.)

England, ever the traditionalist, didn’t switch to the Gregorian calendar until 1752, over a century after the Bard’s death.

This anomaly made April 23 an ideal date for the United Nations to create an international holiday celebrating literature. It also helps that not only did Shakespeare die on April 23, he was probably born on April 23 as well. Though no records exist to confirm Shakespeare’s birthday, it is assumed to be April 23, 1564, three days before his recorded baptism.

So today World Book Day is celebrated on April 23.

…Except in England, the Bard’s homeland, where it’s celebrated in March, because that’s the way they roll. And April 23 was already taken. It’s dedicated to England’s patron St. George.

(April 23 is also the birthday of famed Russian scribe Vladimir Nabokov—author of fun-for-the-whole-family classics like Lolita.)

*(except years divisible by 400. ie., 1700, 1800, 1900 = regular year; 1600, 2000 = leap year)