Sometimes one has to admit that something so beautiful can be a disgrace. We have just passed just such a moment for the English. I am referring to Burn’s Night, of course, that marvellous invention of the Scots, celebrated on the 25thJanuary!
To digress a moment, I think it would be true to say that if we think about matchless musical composition we would have to concede, certainly from a Western perspective, that the very highest levels of musical achievement belong to either Italy or Germany. For my money JS Bach is without peer, so Germany would be the pre-eminent musical nation with Italy a very close second. We have had fine composers in Britain – Tallis, Purcell and so on – but not as great as JS Bach and a host of others.
And we could ask the same question about fine art. There we might conclude that the honours for the very greatest painters might be shared between the Italians and the French. And again, we have produced many fine painters, but not Leonardo Da Vinci.
So why labour this point? Because Britain, in the same way as Germany and Italy are pre-eminent in their fields of music and art, is preeminent in literature. This island has produced – and by extension the wider world productions in the English language - a raft of the greatest writers ever known, including one, William Shakespeare, certainly the greatest playwright ever, and arguably the greatest
poet. Of course Scotland has produced many fine writers, but in this instance Shakespeare, and for that matter Milton, Spenser and Chaucer, were all English.
What is disgraceful, then, about this from the English point of view is that England has not had the wit to create or to celebrate its literary heritage in the way of a Burn’s Night. Even Shakespeare’s birthday falls on St George’s Day and so is eclipsed by it. That’s even more frustrating when one considers that the 23rd April is also the anniversary of that quintessentially English, though minor,
poet Rupert Brooke: “Think only this of me, that’s there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever England.”
How is it that we cannot celebrate poetry and a poet with haggis, whiskey and good cheer in the way that Scotland can? Of course I wasn’t stopped from such a celebration this year – in fact, had a wonderful time, which led not only to the general recitation of poetry and fine dining, but the spontaneous acts of singing and dancing. In short, the creation of real culture – people getting
together, sharing what is valuable, and really communicating and creating. By analogy, Shakespeare is for the home, not just the theatre.
So if not a criminal offence, it is a disgrace that the English have not got or invented their own version of the Burn’s Night – celebrating whatever poet seems relevant to that event. Perhaps we in England should start a campaign for a Poet’s Night? Any interested?