The Voice of Nature

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Nature is one of Robert Burns’s favourite themes for his poetry, from his early years at Burns Cottage, to his days farming by the River Nith, living and working in rural Scotland provided him with great inspiration. For example, from his time living near Mauchline, he wrote the poem Sweet Afton, which describes the beauty of the countryside in which he and Highland Mary courted:

How pleasant thy banks and green vallies below,
Where wild in the woodlands the primroses blow;
There oft, as mild ev’ning leaps over the lea,
The sweet-scented birk shades my Mary and me.

The Betrothal of Robert Burns and Highland Mary by   R. Josey and James Archer. 1882
The Betrothal of Robert Burns and Highland Mary by
R. Josey and James Archer.
1882, permanent collection

Burns also saw greater themes of life emerge from watching the process of nature. In To a Mouse and To a Mountain Daisy he reflects on the uncertainty of the future, the fragility of life, and his own struggles with depression and the future:

Ev’n thou who mourn’st the Daisy’s fate,
That fate is thine – no distant date;
Stern Ruin’s plough-share drives elate,
Full on thy bloom,
Till crush’d beneath the furrow’s weight
Shall be thy doom!

DSCF4889In addition to this, a sense of place was very important to Burns as he used local places in poems like The Twa Brigs of Ayr, and Tam O’ Shanter. In the latter poem, the connection between people and place results in many powerful and evocative descriptions:

And thro’ the whins, and by the cairn,
Whare hunters fand the murder’d bairn;
And near the thorn, aboon the well,
Whare Mungo’s mither hang’d hersel’

Thus, this summer, we are celebrating these inspirations with an exhibition called The Voice of Nature, which features three unique artworks.

The first of these artworks is by Mathew Dalziel and Louise Scullion, who have created two video pieces which combine visuals and spoken word to recreate our oral culture and relationship with nature. Our curator Sean McGlashan states that these works are, “comparable to the best films of nature but are also works of art with original words and music. I think Robert Burns would love them.”

A still from 'Speaking the land' by Dalziel and Scullion
A still from ‘Speaking the land’ by Dalziel and Scullion

In addition to this we also have a ‘sound sculpture’ by Laura Graham at Auld Kirk Alloway, the site of Tam O’ Shanter’s drunken encounter with the local witches. Every 20 minutes visitors at the Auld Kirk will experience the sounds of the witch’s dance as heard by two Kirkyard ravens, bringing the story of Tam O’ Shanter to life.

Kirk Alloway where visitors can encounter Laura Graham's sound sculpture
Auld Kirk Alloway where visitors can encounter Laura Graham’s sound sculpture, Ravens Ravins

The last artwork in this exhibition is Chieftain by sculptor Jake Harvey, whose work is about attaining simplicity and clear form. This sculpture, which is a permanent piece on our Poets Path, celebrates the haggis, or ‘chieftain of the pudding race,’ that Burns so enjoyed consuming. Made of granite, this sculpture will glisten in the rain and sparkle in the sunshine.

Artist Jake Harvey stands by his artwork with his son, Euan Harvey
Artist Jake Harvey stands by Chieftain with his son, Euan Harvey

As you explore our site we hope that you happen upon these artworks and are inspired to think to about our relationship with nature and the places we live!

The Voice of Nature is free and runs until Sunday the 25th of October.

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