Wild Court

An international poetry journal based in the English Department of King’s College London

‘In Memory of Robert Burns’: a poem by Aaron Aquilina


In Memory of Robert Burns



The ghosts of all past members of the Dumfries and Galloway Town Council gather for a resource management meeting in perpetuity. In their enthusiasm, they interrupt one another constantly.

Look, he lived here in this house a time;
let’s put up the largest sign –
as many signs as we can find,
lest we commit the sin of forgetting –
                    Our greatest obstacle to heritaging.
Let us not forget his wife, as well,
deserving of a monument,
and while we’re at it let’s make ornate
the tombstones of his closest friends –
                    I think he knew him, and her, and her too, perhaps –
and so let’s celebrate
this town because a man once lived here,
and this Poundland, because this man once spoke here,
and this doorstep, because he once stepped over it
as he steps over us, this literary giant,
this liberating folk hero,
and we must monumentalise, eternalise,
make sacred –
                    Because of course
it was his body (of all bodies!)
that had to be interred and transported
to a personal mausoleum –
                    Nothing could be more fitting –
when they found his body wholly preserved
as many saints’ bodies are –
                    Even the gravediggers stood aghast,
swore they could see a halo round his holy head
even after it had rolled off his hallowed corpse –
                    Then let us pray to St Robbie Burns
whose poetry transubstantiates into tourism
whose words give us our identity –
                    For who would we even be without him?
It doesn’t matter that we don’t have the time for rhyming
or for quaint, outdated thoughts,
because pretty prayer at the altar of commercialism
is the only poetry that pays dividends –
                     And if we don’t put up the signs
or the plaques plastered all over town,
nobody will know where good old Burns is;
thus would end our pilgrimages,
and none of the masses will come home
to give unto Caesar what is his.
No, that would not do –
                     Then let us have a Burns Night Supper,
light some candles,
have our Address to a Haggis
after solemn spoutings of Selkirk Grace,
and finish things off with good Auld Lang Syne
round the time of his birthday –
                     though we should feel free
to host it any other day we think right or feel like, of course,
because legends must not be neglected.
As Midas,
everything this man once touched
is sacrosanct, now,
and it would be foolish to
turn away gold
when it falls on one’s lap;
even the bishop will doff his cap
as visitor centres open
and libraries close
because –
                     Didn’t you know,
Burns is found in the people, not the page;
it would be gravely naïve to think so.



A sequestered scene: a simple room on a Saturday night long ago. A headless man eats a humble meal, clears the table, then sits down to write a letter.

Indeed I have died long ago;
Neighbour now is the carrion crow.
Why spent my days with words and flow?
Why deep in thought?
What did I try so hard to show?
It was for naught.

I could not bear to feel alone,
But I feel worse now that my throne
Watches the ivy and the stone
Of this church yard.
No one forgets the land’s best known
Dead, rustic bard.

The crowds did come to see my grave:
These people took and never gave,
Teaching themselves how to behave
From my penned lines;
It is not morals I now crave,
Nor empty rhymes.

I want to be disgorged from mind,
Exhumed, no longer so confined
To be some champion of mankind.
Give me the plough,
Let me leave faulty words behind,
Have only Now.

Remove me from this treasured ground
From where I long to be unbound
And let me only be renowned
With mice and grains,
Where more than I the roots profound
And darkness reigns.