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Last Updated: Friday, 25 January 2008, 16:45 GMT
Heaney's tribute to the Scottish bard
Seamus Heaney
Seamus Heaney's poem is called 'A Birl for Burns'
With Scots across the globe celebrating Burns' Night with customary haggis and a wee dram or two... Seamus Heaney has paid his own special tribute to the Scottish bard.

The tribute from the County Derry-born poet - Heaney grew up on a farm outside Castledawson - will come as no surprise to fans as he has often spoken of the impact Robert Burns' work had on him in his youth.

"The way Burns sounded, his choice of words, his rhymes and metaphors, all that collapsed the distance I expected to feel between myself and the schoolbook poetry I encountered first at Anahorish Elementary School," said the Nobel Laureate.

"He did not fail the muse or us or himself as one of poetry's chosen instruments."

Burns' Night takes place on Scotland's most famous literary son's birthday.

Haggis, neeps and tatties
Haggis is traditionally served on Burns' Night

Robert, Robbie or Rabbie Burns was born in 1759 in the Scottish village of Alloway near Ayr.

Burns' most famous poems are To a Mouse and Tam O'Shanter. His ballad Auld Lang Syne is notably sung at New Year celebrations and of course during Burns' Night suppers.

These were started by friends of Burns, a few years after his death in 1796.

A Birl for Burns

From the start, Burns' birl and rhythm,
That tongue the Ulster Scots brought wi' them
And stick to still in County Antrim
Was in my ear.
From east of Bann it westered in
On the Derry air.

My neighbours toved and bummed and blowed,
They happed themselves until it thowed,
By slaps and stiles they thrawed and tholed
And snedded thrissles,
And when the rigs were braked and hoed
They'd wet their whistles.

Old men and women getting crabbèd
Would hark like dogs who'd seen a rabbit,
Then straighten, stare and have a stab a
Standard habbie:
Custom never staled their habit
O' quotin' Rabbie.

Leg-lifting, heartsome, lightsome Burns!
He overflowed the well-wrought urns
Like buttermilk from slurping churns,
Rich and unruly,
Or dancers flying, doing turns
At some wild hooley.

For Rabbie's free and Rabbie's big,
His stanza may be tight and trig
But once he sets the sail and rig
Away he goes
Like Tam-O-Shanter o'er the brig
Where no one follows.

And though his first tongue's going, gone,
And word lists now get added on
And even words like stroan and thrawn
Have to be glossed,
In Burn's rhymes they travel on
And won't be lost.

A Birl for Burns is taken from A Night Out With Robert Burns: The Greatest Poems.

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24 Jan 08 |  Highlands and Islands

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