Selfie Burns

Sometimes I wonder what the great poet Robert Burns would say if he were alive today. I mean, besides, “OCH! Le’me oot of this box, ye rascals!”

Last night, sitting up sleepless for no known reason, I re-read a poem of Burns’ that I have always particularly liked, one called “To a Louse.” I’ll spare you reproducing the whole thing here, because I abhor ham-handed┬átranslations and Burns’ original Scots can be kind of hard to get through unless you’re used to it. But the poem came about when Burns saw a louse wandering around an upper-class lady’s bonnet in church. At first he chides the louse for picking such a proud, classy lady to wander around on. But then, he realizes that the lady would be pretty horrified if she could see herself as other people viewed her at that moment, and decides that would be a wonderful power to have:

O wad some pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
An’ ev’n devotion!

To help you a little, wad means would, “the giftie” is “the giver,” gie means give, and mony is many.

It seems that my beloved Burns foresaw and probably would have welcomed not only video, but the selfie. And yet, even as we see ourselves on video or in countless selfies, we really don’t see ourselves as others see us. We see ourselves through glasses that hide so much of what we don’t wish to see in ourselves. We see ourselves in the glimmering light of our own self-image, tempered only slightly by what the camera, held at arm’s length, can resolve.

But what a gift, what a precious gift it would really be to see ourselves truly through the eyes of another; to look at ourselves impartially in the cold light of day and unretouched. Warts and all, as they say. It would indeed free us from many a blunder and foolish notion! Maybe someday, Rabbie.

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