for the commemoration at St Andrews University, October 2000

All the Fergussons are black
I’ve heard said in the Outback.
Sub rosa, the Scots empire ranged wide.
I hope Scotland proportions her pride
now to the faith her lads kept with
all the subject folks they slept with.
I know for you this wasn’t an issue.
Madness made a white man of you

disastrously young. You stayed alive
just long enough to revive
from Scottish models and kings
such medieval things
as documentary verse-television
and writing in Scots for the brain.
In that, you set the great precedent
for every vernacular and variant

the world-reach of English would present.
Now you’re two hundred and fifty
and gin some power the giftie
gied ye of a writership-in-revenance
you’d find a death-cult called Romance
both selling and preserving a scrubbed Reekie
and the now-posh Highlands. Very freaky.
You might outdo Dr Johnson in polite

St Andrews now, that Reformation bombsite.
I fear you mightn’t outdraw golf there:
golf keeps from the door the wolf there –
but no one does what you showed some aversion
to already in your time, poetical inversion.
Metrics, too, now, are Triassic pent amateur
and ‘Rhyme is for Negroes,’ I heard in Berlin:
the speaker was a literary Finn.

Such talk, now at last, is a sin
in place of much that wasn’t. Madness
for instance. The Bedlams yielded to medicine:
even madness has, a little. Madness:
would you rise from the grave back through madness?
It took you and left us Burns
of the Night. Many jubilant returns:
this at last is Robert Fergusson Night.

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