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The Cottar's Saturday Night

Yesterday was Burns’ night. I wonder if you went to a Burns’ Supper, or if you did what we usually do and have haggis, neeps and tatties at home. I guess more haggises will be sold this week than in any other week of the year.

One of Robert Burns’ best loved poems is The Cottar’s Saturday Night. It describes a family gathering round the table for a meal. Some of the older children are just home from work and younger ones are enjoying having them back. With all his family around him, the cottar opens his Bible, reads to his wife and children and then prays.

At one level the poem is a sentimental look back to a society much simpler than our own. At another level it is a husband and father doing what God says in the Bible. ‘Fathers … bring them (your children) up in the training and instruction of the Lord.’

I usually finish with one of my own poems but today we’ll look to Robert Burns and a few selected stanzas from The Cottar’s Saturday Night.

The cheerfu’ supper done, wi’ serious face, They, round the ingle, form a circle wide; The sire turns o’er, with patriarchal grace, The big ha’ bible, ance his father’s pride: His bonnet rev’rently is laid aside, His lyart haffets wearing thin and bare; Those strains that once did sweet in Zion glide, He wales a portion with judicious care; And ‘Let us worship God!’ he says with solemn air …….

The priest-like father reads the sacred page, How Abram was the friend of God on high; Or Moses bade eternal warfare wage With Amalek’s ungracious progeny; Or how the royal bard did groaning lie Beneath the stroke of Heaven’s avenging ire; Or Job’s pathetic plaint, and wailing cry; Or rapt Isaiah’s wild, seraphic fire; Or other holy seers that tune the sacred lyre.

Perhaps the Christian volume is the theme, How guiltless blood for guilty man was shed; How He, who bore in Heaven the second name, Had not on earth whereon to lay His head: How His first followers and servants sped; The precepts sage they wrote to many a land: How he, who lone in Patmos banished, Saw in the sun a mighty angel stand, And heard great Bab’lon’s doom pronounc’d by Heaven’s command.

Then, kneeling down to Heaven’s Eternal King, The saint, the father, and the husband prays: Hope ‘springs exulting on triumphant wing,’ That thus they all shall meet in future days, There, ever bask in uncreated rays, No more to sigh, or shed the bitter tear, Together hymning their Creator’s praise, In such society, yet still more dear; While circling Time moves round in an eternal sphere

Then homeward all take off their sev’ral way; The youngling cottagers retire to rest: The parent-pair their secret homage pay, And proffer up to Heaven the warm request, That he who stills the raven’s clam’rous nest, And decks the lily fair in flow’ry pride, Would, in the way His wisdom sees the best, For them and for their little ones provide; But chiefly, in their hearts with grace divine preside.

Irene Howat


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