Posted by: Tom Triumph | March 22, 2009

20. Epitaph for William Nicol, High School, Edinburgh: Robert Burns

Short, gross and fun. Your students can struggle decoding the Scottish dialect, have fun reading it aloud in their idea of a Scottish dialect, and the class can discuss the value (if any) in using dialect. Some essential questions to explore:

What, for example, is gained by using dialect?
What is their own dialect?
Does their generation have its own dialect?
Could a poem be written in texting text, and would it be effective?
Would it limit the audience, and what would you say to those who refused to read it?
How are their own struggles with Burns, Shakespeare or poetry in general like adults trying to understand their unique language?

This is a poem where you will bring a lot to it. Can you speak Scottish? What is a maggot? Make it come alive and you have set up an entire class’ worth of discussion. Of course, there is also the issue of its meaning (oh, yeah, that). It is pretty straightforward. The heart makes a great symbol, even as maggots eat it out rotten.

Epitaph for William Nicol, High School, Edinburgh
Robert Burns

YE maggots, feed on Nicol’s brain,
For few sic feasts you’ve gotten;
And fix your claws in Nicol’s heart,
For deil a bit o’t’s rotten.



  1. […] lice? Why is this set in a church? Why did he write in a thick accent (I write about accents in another Robert Burns post)? Who is the speaker? What do you know about him/her? What other things could Burns have used to […]

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