Robert Fergusson Night

Les Murray

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.