Prose & SongCorrespondence & Poetry

Burns and Language: Heat

We are edging close to December now, but if you’re anything like me you will be getting annoyed at all the shops for talking of Christmas too early. So I shall refrain from surfing the yule tidal wave for now.

It is starting to get cold these days though. It’s the time of year that we all start looking for warmth. So let’s see where Burns turns for his heat. Don’t get all hot under the collar, though, there is nothing of any steamy encounters here. I think we can leave that for Valentine’s Day!

Burns uses the word ‘heat’ seven times. The first entry is criticising the ‘fire and brimstone’ preaching methods exposed in ‘The Holt fair’:

A vast, unbottom’d boundless pit,

Fill’d fou o’ lowin’ brunstane,

Wha’s ragin’ flame, an’ scorchin’ heat,

Wad melt the hardest whunstane!

But almost all of the other entries for the word ‘heat’ are to do with emotion. In ‘The Author’s Earnest Cry and Prayer’, for example, Burns attempts to stir up protest by saying “An’ tell them a wi patriot heat,/ Ye winna bear it.” Burns then, uses the word in an attempt to fire the emotion of his readership against controversial legislation on the Scottish whisky industry in this forceful poem.

In ‘O leave Novels’ though Burns writes:

Your fine Tom Jones and Gandison’s

They make your youthful fancies real;

They heat your brains, and fire your veins,

And then you’re prey for Rob Mossgiel.

Burns makes references to the novels by Fielding and Richardson Tom Jones and Sir Charles Grandison respectively, telling the ‘Mauchline Belles’ not to read them, as they are sexually explicit. And that if they do then they will be “prey for Rob Mossgiel”- aka Burns himself! This shouldn’t be read as being sexist, though, as Burns is doing this in order to make a joke at himself – playing on some peoples’ perception of him as a womaniser. It is very much meant to be funny, and in this vein, as Juliet Linden Bicket points out, “the whole piece becomes a masterwork of self-parody.”

I know I said there would be nothing steamy here, but I don’t think this self-mocking counts!

So burns, it would seem, poetically at least, finds no (literal) warmth in ‘heat’. He does, however, seem to prefer using the term in a much more figurative sense, to mean the firing of emotions/inspiration (or arousal perhaps…).

So to stay warm this winter, forget the coco by the fireside, or the reading a book in a onesy (unless it’s Fielding of course), and think about getting inspired. Nothing like a good fit of emotion to keep you warm on a long winter’s night!

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