Poetry and the Kenotic Word
Robert Burns’s “Jarring Thoughts”: Carnivalesque Metaphorisations of Existentialist Spirituality
Robert Burns’s poetry is rooted in the Scottish and the English Enlightenment, a combination leading not only to linguistic hybridity, but also to a miscellany of disparate ideas relating to points of view, values and literary facts. This is a consequence of differences of language, landscape, and different institutionalised ideas of the so-called “Age of Reason”, which the Scottish tradition defined as the “Age of Improvement”. This approach is significant in understanding Burns’s poetry, suggesting a “philosophy of change” rather than an attitude that recognises or seeks to abolish the existing political or cultural order. Because of the iconoclastic character of much of Burns’s poetry, historians such as Richard B. Sher in his Church and University in the Scottish Enlightenment have deliberately excluded Robert Burns from their conception of the Scottish Enlightenment because he did not follow its general trends and pursued different intellectual values than most of the Scottish artists of the time (Zabiegalik 81).
The originality and peculiarity of the Scottish Enlightenment consists in the fact that, unlike French philosophers of the time, Scottish intellectuals were never at war with representatives of the cultural or political hierarchy or with their church. In the absence of such conflict, in fact, leaders in the Church of Scotland took an active part in serious discussions about the rights of individual people and their role in the larger society (Zabiegalik 78–79). Burns’s literary heritage, then, incorporates dimensions of two streams of thought, that of the English and...
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