IAN PAISLEY: Great Scot! Burns Night is on the way

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SO the Scots are to have their long promised say on independence.

It seems before they are there is much to be decided, not least of which is the actual wording of the question they will be asked.

A Scot who knew a thing or two about words is Robert Burns. This incoming week will see Scottish communities the world over celebrate the poet’s life on what is known as Burns Night, usually marked around January 25.

A year ago now, the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum was opened.

It is full of mice and other creatures!

Wee mice illustrate scenes from his famous narrative poem, Tam O’Shanter and the depiction of 18th century life presented by video, would not ring so true without the appearance of numerous rats.

Another much loved Burns poem, To A Mouse, created the perfect excuse for the creation of a two metre high mouse sculpture!

Burns’ work in both Scots and English embraces landscape, brotherhood and political reform.

His influence has been far reaching. William Wordsworth and John Keats are but two other well known “pen men” whose work evidences his influence.

Modern day singer-songwriters such as Bob Dylan happily line up to express their appreciation of his lyricism. The much acclaimed musical Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck unashamedly takes its title from To a Mouse. And as Valentine’s Day fast approaches there likely will be no other poem as much quoted as A Red Red Rose!

The poet was born in Alloway in 1759 and the village has been a tourist destination for more than 200 years. In fact a monument and a collection of his work were established there not long after his death in 1796.

This new museum, however, is something else. It uses today’s advancements to combine the past and the present making for a dynamic presentation of the various elements believed to have inspired Burns. Of course we may never quantify just what sparks poetic genius, but we may use historic fact and modern technology to grapple with it.

It is possible to see the cottage where the poet was born and go to the actual graveyard where the witches and warlocks spooked his imaginary character, Tam O’Shanter.

Being able to see original manuscripts and the books of his day set in juxtaposition with a jukebox that plays Auld Lang Syne cannot fail to inspire.

Burning Issues is the clever title of animated commentaries by Burns on the hot topics of his time - taxation, revolution, emigration. Mini doors open to reveal a Man o Parts. They show past and present concepts of the man himself - his use in an advert for Robbie Burns Famed Old Scotch Whisky; a letter in his own hand complaining of ill health just months before his death; a lock of his hair. Bit by bit we are informed, made to smile, amazed by his interest in his own time and told his story but left with enough gaps to allow us the pleasure of filling them ourselves.

The Scottish people are a canny lot, I should know, my mother was Scottish! I fail to see what all the angst is concerning the question to be put in the upcoming referendum. The Scots know exactly what they want, know how to get it, and probably would greatly appreciate it if we left them alone to make their own decision.