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Ae Spark O’ Nature’s Fire

A few days after writing my dialogue with doubt, I still had questions running through my head about how we lay claim to the writing of poetry.

Visiting Ellisland Farm (where Robert Burns lived and worked for a few years, and close to where I now live) I stumbled across these words from Scotland’s most famous poet.

They seemed to capture the feeling perfectly: first the denial of being a ‘poet’, in any learned sense, and second the affirmation of what matters.  Letting yourself be touched by the source (‘ae spark o’ nature’s fire‘), and writing to touch another human heart.

Wintry Scene

The verses that jumped out and grabbed me were these, from Epistle to J Lapraik, an Old Scottish Bard.

I am nae poet, in a sense;
But just a rhymer like by chance,
An’ hae to learning nae pretence;
Yet, what the matter?
Whene’er my muse does on me glance,
I jingle at her.

Gie me ae spark o’ nature’s fire,
That’s a’ the learning I desire;
Then tho’ I drudge thro’ dub an’ mire
At pleugh or cart,
My muse, tho’ hamely in attire,
May touch the heart.


If you’re baffled, here’s a wee bit of help.

This isn’t a translation as such - I’m no Burns expert and still finding my way round Scots - but an explanation of some of the words, and an attempt at a plainer version to help you read it:

nae = no
hae = have
whene’er = whenever
gie = give
ae = one, a single
o’ = of
a’ = all
dub = puddle
hamely = homely

I am no poet, in a sense
But just a rhymer almost by chance
And I have no pretence to learning
Yet, what does that matter?
Whenever my muse glances at me
I jingle at her

Give me one spark of nature’s fire
That’s all the learning I desire
Then though I trudge through mud and puddles
At the plough or cart
My muse, though dressed in a homely, old fashioned style,
May touch the heart.


PS Enjoy St Andrew’s Day!

Final footnote:

The photo is not actually of Ellisland Farm, but a farm a few miles away. The landscape is very similar though.

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  1. Carolyn Cordon
    Twitter: holksch

    This is great - thank you for sharing Robbie’s words with us. He certainly knew what poetry was really about. It’s not about showing off and impressing people, it’s about touching the heart of others.

  2. Tweets that mention Ae Spark O’ Nature’s Fire | Confident Writing -- says:

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  3. Karen Swim
    Twitter: karenswim

    Joanna, this is beautiful and truly communicates the power of poetry. I understood every word of the scots version as poetry truly does reach you on a deeper level as the words become so visceral and visual. Makes me want to go outside tilt my head to the sky and allow that spark of fire to touch my heart.

  4. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    @Carolyn Cordon: yes… all about heart. Sorry for the long delay in the reply!

    @Karen Swim: Karen, I have a lovely image of you stepping outside your door and lifting your head up to the sky. I hope you manage it each and every day. The sky will kiss you right back x