The Gibson Collection: The many tongues of Rabbie Burns by Len Pennie

Len Pennie, Scots poet and activist (@missPunnyPennie on Twitter) writes about her relationship with Burns, and picks out the foreign language Burns editions from the Gibson collection.

Ever since A wis wee A’ve hud twa passions in life: languages and Rabbie Burns. I spoke Scots in the house, I spoke English at the school an then when I wis gied the opportunity tae speak Spanish an French at uni, A taen it wae baith hauns.

Burns’ poetry gied me the opportunity tae see ma ain leid in a way A never hud afore; poems, sangs, real literature that wis spelt the same, sounded the same, felt the same as the wee vyce in ma heid. If ye’d telt me baith ae these passions, leids an Burns, wid co-incide wae yin another, A widnae hae believed ye. An yet here A am, haein jist poured ma way through translation upon translation ae Burns’ work in a wheen ae different leids.

A French Edition of Burns from the 19th century, published in Paris.

The Gibson Collection hus a puckle ae translations ae Burns’ work, in a wheen ae different leids. Let me tell yous, seein, hearin, speakin a poyum in another leid gies ye insight intae the poets mind in a hale new way. A ken fine well how hard it is tae translate poyums, A’m a poet masel so the task ae translatin ma work is wan that ayeways fills me wae the fear, an yet, tae gang through them that belang tae the Gibson collection wis a braw experience. Tae see the words A ken translatit intae aw different leids, tae see the time an respect gied tae Scots translations, wis incredible. An gin ye want tae see the poyums themsel, nae translatin, they hae wan ae the maist muckle collections ae Burns work in the world.

Noo, A ken A’m jist a wee Burns nerd, but there’s somehing fur abdy in the collection: fur them that’s aulder there’s history an context aboot his life ye may no ken, an fur the weans there’s poyums an sangs ootwith the wans we aw get each year at the school. We hink ae Burns as belangin tae Scotland, an he does, but the fact there’s sic a rich tradition an fascination wae Burns jist ower the sheuch gars ma hert gled. Jist as the Scots leid exists jist as fiercely ower the watter, so too does the love an respect fur Rabbie Burns. Fae an international perfective, the words ae Rabbie Burns matter the day as much as aye day, an gin ye’ll excuse a wee pun, in the Gibson collection, the love fur his work burns mair brightly than maist.