In an earlier post I mentioned that I don't care for the poetry of Robert Burns, so I'll explain why.
Burns was writing specifically with the Scots dialect in mind, deliberately evoking his imagery through the elevation of language itself. This is one of the things that earned him his poet laureate status in Scotland: his use of Scots in his poetry. But it almost feels as if he was writing poetry for the sake of being poetic and glorifying the Lowlander accent rather than painting a picture with words.
To wit, one of Burns's most famous of poems (by way of Poetry Archive
O, my Luve's like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June.
O, my Luve's like the melodie,
That's sweetly play'd in tune.
As fair art thou, my bonie lass,
So deep in luve am I,
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.
Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun!
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run.
And fare thee weel, my only luve,
And fare thee weel a while!
And I will come again, my luve,
Tho' it were ten thousand mile!
I can mentally "hear" the way the poem would be spoken by a Scots speaker, but if it were stripped of the accent and written in plain English, all its charm would be lost. By itself, I have to say that it's an unremarkable poem with a simile that isn't
the most favourable of comparisons. Roses have thorns, after all.
By contrast, W. B. Yeats was working with imagery
, be it real world, mythological, or spiritual. While Burns was all wool, peat smoke, and whiskey, Yeats spun his words from spider silk and morning mist. His words have an otherworldly and ethereal quality, (especially in his poetry regarding the faeries) but his prose serves the mental image he tried to evoke. Like so:
I would that we were, my beloved, white birds on the foam of the sea!
We tire of the flame of the meteor, before it can fade and flee;
And the flame of the blue star of twilight, hung low on the rim of the sky,
Has awakened in our hearts, my beloved, a sadness that may not die.
A weariness comes from those dreamers, dew-dabbled, the lily and rose;
Ah, dream not of them, my beloved, the flame of the meteor that goes,
Or the flame of the blue star that lingers hung low in the fall of the dew:
For I would we were changed to white birds on the wandering foam: I and you!
I am haunted by numberless islands, and many a Danaan shore,
Where Time would surely forget us, and Sorrow come near us no more;
Soon far from the rose and the lily, and fret of the flames would we be,
Were we only white birds, my beloved, buoyed out on the foam of the sea!
Perhaps it can be said that Yeats was romanticising Ireland's mythical past, (Yeats was present for the first wave of 'Celtomania' that swept Europe) but even if that is the case, he did at the very least touch upon the heart of Celtic spirituality.
This is why, as far as Scottish poetry goes, I much prefer the hymns and prayers Alexander Carmichael collected and published as the Carmina Gadelica
or Ortha nan Gaidheal
Behold the Lightener of the stars
On the crests of the clouds,
And the choralists of the sky
Coming down with acclaim
From the Father above,
Harp and lyre of song
Sounding to Him.
Christ, Thou refuge of my love,
Why should not I raise Thy fame!
Angels and saints melodious
Singing to Thee.
Thou Son of the Mary of graces,
Of exceeding white purity of beauty,
Joy were it to me to be in the fields
Of Thy riches.
O Christ my beloved,
O Christ of the Holy Blood,
By day and by night
I praise Thee.
There is something about the Carmina Gadelica
(and Yeats's poetry) that, while celebrating the earthly, also transcends it into the spiritual. That may be why Burns's poetry leaves me cold above all else. It simply does not engage me on the spiritual level. That, and I just don't like poetry that's written for poetry's sake.
 'O, My Luve's Like a Red, Red Rose', English Poems
. Ed. Edward Chauncey Baldwin & Harry G. Paul. New York: American Book Company, 1908.
 'The White Birds', An Anthology of Modern Verse
. Ed. A. Methuen. London: Methuen & Co., 1921.