Moonrise, an maudlin in the mirk,
we coorie in, hoose selt, hame hawked,
oor labour thirled tae yesterday,
the morra pawned fur brick-a-brack.
Thieves tout the mercat, flashin cash
in credit caird tricks yince cried tick.
Gowks gawp. It’s easy money. Hauns
dip threidbare pooches skint by lees;
yin cat feeds fat, an hunners sterve.
Dunderheids, we bocht intae grief,
gied up sense fur greed, furgoat brass
barters work, its worth inventit.
A dreich rain faws oan rentit roofs.
We pey tae drain the run-aff, pey
again tae pipe it back. Nae debt
is gain. If lochs fill, mountains droon.
Yit bairns sleep an dream, fit tae bigg
a warld whaur love gies shelter, breid
daily, care redds up, prood tae bide
an fecht whaur fowk cry foul at cheats:
nae man worth mair. It’s wha we are.
Tak tent. Waukened, sleeves rowed up,
drookit, set tae work, a new stert.
Day breks, mornin sun ay rises.
About this poem
This poem was written as part of the Scottish Poetry Library’s Addressing the Bard project in 2009. Twelve contemporary poets were asked to select a poem by Robert Burns and respond to it. Janet Paisley chose ‘Scots wha hae / Robert Bruce’s March to Bannockburn’.
Janet Paisley comments:
Some instinct chose ‘Scots wha hae’ for me. It’s a dramatised, monologue poem. One character – Robert the Bruce – speaks in a set situation – before the Battle of Bannockburn. I write many dramatic monologues. So did Burns. This one borrows from the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath, when Bruce was king. It’s inspiring. Freedom, it says, is more valuable than life, and so it’s worth dying for.
That seems like a big choice to make. I made it once. There was no army to fight, just a bully. The weapon I needed was courage – the courage to say no, to run away, and to tell the people who could help me and my children. It was frightening. I expected to die. But I chose to be free for a short time, if that’s how it turned out, rather than be bullied again. As soon as that choice was made, the bully had lost, whatever he did.
It’s a big word, freedom – a concept. It means different things to people. Burns was writing about national freedom. The energy of his language, and how he uses it, is also inspiring. The words, when strung together, had to cause the kind of bravery that can run towards sharp spears and swords. These hurt. The poet had to create feelings strong enough to overcome common sense, which would tell most folk to run the other way.
To write my response, everything we need to fight against in Scotland today swirled round in my head, all jumbled up. I expected to write a monologue, and a funny one – lines for it are still living in my head. Don’t, I told myself, don’t write about politics. Do not even think of tackling the credit crunch. But the bit of my brain that writes poetry doesn’t listen to the sensible part that gets me safely across the road.
Using the idea of freedom, money has become a thug. It dictates our lives. Some folk have far too much, some have far too little. Yet people invented it to make life easier, not harder. So, when my poem was ready to be written, that’s what it was about. There is no character speaking. The poem has its own voice. It talks about credit, about borrowing. It says something like: if we spend our income before we earn it, we enslave ourselves.
I hope it reminds us that, when any one of us can act as a greedy individual, then we’re all poor in the ways that matter. We’re all responsible if our family, group, society, and world, suffers as many people go without. Thousands become poor so that a few can have more than they need. Is that riches? We’ve passed laws to make people tolerant, and we can make laws which create compassion. Money is a tool, not a weapon. It will work how we make it work. I’m too old to have much future, so it’s up to you. Sorry it’s not funny.