I Feel Like Such a Philistine...

The Works of Robert Burns (Wordsworth Poetry Library) - Robert Burns, Allan Cunningham

I feel abashed to admit I don't much like the poetry of Robert Burns. I'm in a decided minority on GoodReads. Only one member gave this one star and eight gave it two stars--versus 71 who gave it five stars. Robert Burns is a major poet; I tried this book of his poetry because it was on <i>Good Reading</i>'s "100 Most Significant Works." I've found reading through that list quite an education that has illuminated Western culture every time I've read one of those books listed. Even those I despised, such as Joyce's <i>Ulysses</i>, I've found well worth reading because you then recognize how it has influenced the literary landscape and culture. Burns is no exception. He is Scotland's favorite son, and I imagine his use of Scots dialect and the vernacular was revolutionary. He is also considered a forerunner of the Romantic Movement and I can see that, especially in his extolling of nature--he has some of the most famous poems about animals in the English Language. Particularly "To a Mouse," a line of which was used as the title <i>Of Mice and Men</i> by Steinbeck.

I guess I can blame my reaction on the Scots dialect. I have to admit that to see words like "beastie" and "mousie" seemed very nursery rhyme to me, and often the use of the dialect was so thick as to be impenetrable. Take for instance this opening stanza of "Address to a Haggis:"

<i>Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the pudding-race!
Aboon them a' yet tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o'a grace
As lang's my arm.</i>

So no, not for me--and yes, there are poets I've loved: Sappho, Omar Khayyam, Shakespeare, Donne, Keats, Dickinson, T.S. Eliot, Frost among others. For what it's worth, I may try Burns again someday. There are two things I think I could do to make him more accessible--and that might be true for other readers as well too embarrassed to admit this didn't enthrall them. For one, the edition I read was downloaded for free from Project Gutenberg--a very old edition beyond copyright. A more annotated edition, that gave explanations for the various unfamiliar words might have made a great difference. So even if the content might deserve a better rating, well, I think this edition is not a good introduction. And poetry especially benefits from being read aloud. This might be a case where a talking or audio book might have been a superior experience to the written word.