The purpose of this essay is to analyze how satire is produced in some of the works of Robert Burns. First of all a definition of satire will be given in order to establish a frame to work with, and then we will proceed to the analysis of two of his satires: ‘To a Louse’ and ‘Address to the Deil’. The analysis will be focused on the different devices that Robert Burns uses to writesatires, and how in some cases these devices interrelate with each other and even with the structure of the poem itself.
According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, satire is an artistic form, chiefly literary and dramatic, in which human or individual vices, follies, abuses, or shortcomings are held up to censure by means of ridicule, derision, burlesque, irony, parody, caricature, or othermethods, sometimes with an intent to inspire social reform. In the case of Robert Burns, his criticism was directed towards the vices of society and religious orthodoxy, as will be seen in the poems to follow.
Analysis of ‘To a Louse’
‘To a Louse’ is an example of social satire. The addressee of this poem is a louse that is crawling on a lady’s bonnet, which is the situation around which thesatire is constructed. Behind this poem there lies the concept of a snobbish barrier between rich and poor , the object of Burns’ criticism. The satiric features of this poem are essentially based on irony and antithesis. It also relies on other humorous devices such as metaphoric images of a comical nature, and the use of loaded colloquial expressions.
The irony comes from the speaker. Thespeaker adopts a position contrary of what he is trying to say. On several occasions the speaker exhorts the louse to leave the lady’s bonnet and find a poor person to crawl on. Therefore, the speaker is acknowledging and accepting the superiority of higher social classes.
Gae somewhere else and seek your dinner
On some poor body.
I wad na been surpris'dto spy
You on an auld wife's flainen toy:
Or aiblins some bit duddie boy,
But Miss's fine Lunardi! fye!
How daur ye do't.
The next device that contributes to the satirical tone of the poem is the use of comical images, which comicality is based on personification (of the louse) and exaggeration.
Swith! in some beggar's hauffet squattle:
There you may creep,and sprawl, and sprattle
Wi' ither kindred, jumping cattle,
In shoals and nations;
Whare horn nor bane ne'er daur unsettle
Your thick plantations.
The last of the devices that we will see is the use of loaded colloquial expressions.
O for some rank, mercurial rozet,
Or fell, red smeddum,
I'd gie ye sic a hearty dose o't,
Wad dress your droddum!
In this stanza the useof ‘Wad dress your droddum!’ indicates anger towards the louse, but it also contradicts the established point of view of the speaker. The speaker’s position makes us think that he must be a member of the higher classes, however this colloquial expression indicates all the opposite. This contradiction also contributes to the satirical tone of the poem.
However, despite the humorous tone, the pointof view of the speaker could be interpreted literally until the sixth stanza. The seventh and eighth stanzas are the key to really understanding the predominant irony of the poem, because they show the real intention of the speaker.
O Jenny, dinna toss your head,
An' set your beauties a' abread!
You little ken what cursed speed
The blastie's makin!
Thae winks an' finger-ends, Idread,
Are notice takin'!
Firstly we find that this stanza is not directed to the louse anymore, but to the woman. But he’s not addressing her as “Lady” (Sae fine Lady!: Stanza 2) or “Miss” (O’Miss’s bonnet / But Miss’s fine Lunardi, fye!: Stanzas 4 and 6), but as “Jenny”, which denotes a lower degree of respect for her social position. And the key to this is the following lines, which depict...