From Russia with love of poetry
RUSSIAN pupil Polina Berezanslia, 14, holds a copy of Robert Burns poetry as she visits the bard’s home country along with 15 of her fellow students from St Petersburg’s School 61.
The group are visiting Alloway, Edinburgh, Dumbarton and Lanark to learn more about the poet. Yesterday they attended a talk at the Robert Burns Centre at Glasgow University.
HIS cherished songs and verses have spoken to the nation’s soul for more than two centuries.
But just as Scots consider Rabbie Burns their national poet, Russians have long taken the Bard of Ayrshire to their hearts and celebrate the wit and words of their “people’s poet”.
And now the links between fans in the two countries have been reaffirmed with the arrival of 16 teenage students on a trip following in the footsteps of Scotland’s favourite wordsmith.
The group, from St Petersburg, are visiting Alloway, Edinburgh, Dumbarton and Lanark to learn more about the poet whose work has effortlessly crossed both political and linguistic borders.
Yesterday they attended a talk at the Robert Burns Centre at the University of Glasgow, with the trip organised by the World Robert Burns Federation.
Teacher Rita Zaitseva explained: “The works of Robert Burns are very well known in Russia and parts of his poems and lyrics appear in songs in popular films.
“All schoolchildren learn A Red, Red Rose, John Barleycorn and other poems - the humorous ones, the shorts ones, the long ones.”
She added: “After the revolution he became even more popular because of his love of nature and his celebration of the harvest and the goodness in the land.
“This chimed with some of the Soviet ideas about the peasantry, and his works remained as popular as before.
“Robert Burns for us is not a person like a statue who people consider a god. He is a common person, just like any one them.”
Burns poems became popular in 19th-century Russia, where literary society took to their romantic appeal and Burns’ life story as a poet farmer.
But it also survived the revolution in 1917, with the Soviet authorities approving of Burns image as a son of the soil and his belief in the common man.
Now his works are so ingrained in the Russian psyche his works have become a cultural touchstone, just as they are in Scotland.
And the pupils of School 61 even learn the verses in the original Scots to better appreciate the language of their idol.
Pupil Polina Berezanslia, 14, said: “The poems of Robert Burns speak to us even now and talk to us about our lives.
“Even though we have to study them for school it it something we enjoy and that all pupils know about. Daniil
Romanyuk, 16, said: “Robert Burns poetry is full of wonderful language and it is very beautiful.
“I play guitar and sing Ae Fond Kiss. It’s a beautiful song, very touching. We really appreciate coming to Scotland to learn more about his country and where he was born.”
Dr Gerry Carruthers, co-director of the university’s Robert Burns Centre, said: “Songs like A Man’s a Man, with its critique of class, was also readily appropriated by the Russians.
“As well as being the people’s poet, in some ways the Russian Revolution is quite sentimental about the peasantry, so the whole thing transfers quite intact from pre-Soviet to postSoviet times.
“Many of these songs are pretty direct in their egalitarian sentiment, in their preference for the poor, their expression of the simple life and their critique of luxury.
“There’s a whole set of portable ideas there which are amenable to post-revolution Russia.”
From left: Polina Berezanslia, 14, Daniil Romanyuk, 16, Natalia Rozhkova, 13, Ilia Zorin, 14 and Lana Zhikhar, 14.
Robert Burns by Alexander Nasmyth