“…The Poet’s Dust…”

Happy Robbie Burns Day! My son and I only unearthed our Caledonian roots seven years ago. After posting Family Tree DNA test results, a cousin and genealogical researcher contacted me and from there, the search began in earnest. She found a fairly close relative which eventually led to our long-lost Ferguson clan/kin. Thank you, Amy, you’re an angel!

We come from a long line of Robert Fergusons and I like to imagine we’re descendants of Robert Fergusson, the 18th poet who “ led a bohemian life in Edinburgh, the city of his birth, then at the height of intellectual and cultural ferment as part of the Scottish Enlightenment. Many of his extant poems were printed from 1771 onwards in Walter Ruddiman’s Weekly Magazine, and a collected works was first published early in 1773. Despite a short life, his career was highly influential, especially through its impact on Robert Burns. He wrote both Scottish English and the Scots language, and it is his vivid and masterly writing for which he is principally acclaimed.” This article discusses the influence of Fergusson on Burns.

I was fortunate to visit Edinburgh for the first time last fall and certainly felt right at home in a city that reveres literature and honours poets, including this statue of Robert Fergusson who “was buried in the Canongate Kirkyard. Robert Burns, who admired his poetry, arranged for a headstone and provided the inscription in 2004. “No sculptured Marble here, nor pompous lay, No storied Urn nor animated Bust: This simple stone directs pale Scotia’s way, to pour her sorrows o’er the Poet’s dust”.

Perhaps my seemingly mysterious penchant for verse and love of language, which always puzzled certain people, might be explained by our heritage and inspired this poem.


Ferocious as I am elegant
I did not ask for this
protracted neck, pale plumage,

penchant for the pond.
I may appear to be gliding
but my palmate feet paddle.

Neither did I ask to be a versifier,
foolishly speaking
in the voice of a swan.

We did not ask for this fate.
Who in their right mind would,
the gift of life bestowed without consent.

Born with words in my mouth, placed
by an unseen hand, an omnipresence
whether I believe in divinity or not.

What does it matter, my faith?
I can identify with a hissy waterfowl
or the Virgin Mary’s quiet grace.

Blame it on nature.
Biology. Perhaps a tribal resonance:
Yeats, Baudelaire and Burns whispering.

Words surge forth, a torrent,
language coursing through my veins,
language etched in my bones.

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