A poem for Burns Night

Post date: 24/01/2016

‘From an English Guest’, was written by Christopher Caudwell (pictured on far right with other volunteers setting off for Spain in December 1936) for the British Battalion’s Burns Night festivities at Madrigueras on 25 January 1937 before going up to the Jarama front.


O wad some pow’r the giftie gie us

To read your Burns, at least in parts.

But we are simple Sassenachs,

We do not understand your cracks – 

For instance, what the hell are ‘airts’?


And then we’d understand your lingo –

Give ‘stane’ for ‘stane’ and ‘hame’ for ‘hame’.

Instead we smile or shake the head

And trust it fits with what you said.

Of course we know you do the same.


But never mind – we’re anti-Fascists:

We tread the same grey Spanish dust.

We know you’re fighters, like your ways – 

And though we don’t know what he says

We’ll take your Rabbie Burns on trust –


As soldiers’ poet – full of failings,

And of your famous Scottish pride,

Poet clear as Highland spring

Through whom ten million Scotsmen sing –

A people’s poet till he died.


Cristopher Caudwell was the name used by Christopher St John Sprigg. Born in Putney, south-west London, in 1907, he worked as a reporter for the Yorkshire Observer before becoming a full-time writer, poet and author of books on literary criticism, physics and aeronautics, including Studies in a Dying Culture and Illusion and Reality. He also wrote several detective novels as Christopher St John Sprigg. He joined the British Battalion in December 1936, having driven one of a convoy of lorries through France taking medical supplies to Spain. He was killed on 12 February 1937 during the battle of Jarama while covering the retreat of his Machine Gun Company.

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