I wanted to recite something for Burns Night, and honestly, fair reader, it seemed foolish even to me to sit in an empty kitchen, staring down a can of “Caladonian Kitchen Haggis” and recite a poem to the can, so I decided that if I was going to do so, I may as well share.
So it’s not period, Burns Night. Not by long shot, but I like it, and so, wi’ a bottle o’ Scotch before me, and a full glass, I decided to read a Robert Burns piece tonight. The piece I chose is a song, and the tune is one more often used with Burns’ “Banks and Braes” and is usually recorded with that. (I get it, I like to write ditties to the “Maltese Bransle” so you know, pick a favorite.) So I decided to sing the song without words as a backdrop, and someday I’ll match them up together.
So, here, “Caledonia” by Robert Burns, the beloved Scottish poet, for Burns Night.
Caledonia by Robert Burns, 1789
Tune: “Caledonian Hunts’ Delight” of Mr. Gow
There was once a day, but old Time wasythen young,
That brave Caledonia, the chief of her line,
From some of your northern deities sprung,
(Who knows not that brave Caledonia’s divine?)
From Tweed to the Orcades was her domain,
To hunt, or to pasture, or do what she would:
Her heav’nly relations there fixed her reign,
And pledg’d her their godheads to warrant it good.
A lambkin in peace, but a lion in war,
The pride of her kindred, the heroine grew:
Her grandsire, old Odin, triumphantly swore, –
“Whoe’er shall provoke thee, th’ encounter shall rue!”
With tillage or pasture at times she would sport,
To feed her fair flocks by her green rustling corn;
But chiefly the woods were her fav’rite resort,
Her darling amusement, the hounds and the horn.
Long quiet she reigned; till thitherward steers
A flight of bold eagles from Adria’s strand:
Repeated, successive, for many long years,
They darken’d the air, and they plunder’d the land:
Their pounces were murder, and terror their cry,
They’d conquer’d and ruin’d a world beside;
She took to her hills, and her arrows let fly,
The daring invaders they fled or they died.
The Cameleon-Savage disturb’d her repose,
With tumult, disquiet, rebellion, and strife;
Provok’d beyond bearing, at last she arose,
And robb’d him at once of his hopes and his life:
The Anglian lion, the terror of France,
Oft prowling, ensanguin’d the Tweed’s silver flood;
But, taught by the bright Caledonian lance,
He learned to fear in his own native wood.
The fell Harpy-raven took wing from the north,
The scourge of the seas, and the dread of the shore;
The wild Scandinavian boar issued forth
To wanton in carnage and wallow in gore:
O’er countries and kingdoms their fury prevail’d,
No arts could appease them, no arms could repel;
But brave Caledonia in vain they assail’d,
As Largs well can witness, and Loncartie tell.
Thus bold, independent, unconquer’d, and free,
Her bright course of glory for ever shall run:
For brave Caledonia immortal must be;
I’ll prove it from Euclid as clear as the sun:
Rectangle-triangle, the figure we’ll chuse:
The upright is Chance, and old Time is the base;
But brave Caledonia’s the hypothenuse;
Then, ergo, she’ll match them, and match them always.
Thanks to Ray and Andrea Sprague for the haggis! I think I’ll try to have a Birka Burns’ Night this weekend!
(Note: Oddly, just as I posted this, outside the wind chime began blowing and I just heard it give one of the middle phrases from this song, I swear on my life. Perhaps a sign that Mr. Burns approves. I’ll take it as such at least.)