Might be time to move Robert Burns from downtown to the Fens

Burns statue

From a 1920 account of the statue's dedication.

Last week, the BPDA sent a bunch of questions to Millennium Partners about its planned $1.3-billion Winthrop Square tower that ultimately came down to asking what the developer would do to keep the building from going up as the city's blandest skyscraper (the Globe has more).

But at the bottom of the list of questions was a request that the company consider fixing one of the odder things in Boston - that a statue of Scottish poet Robert Burns sits at the center of a square named for John Winthrop.

The authority asked Millennium Partners to consider moving the statue back to the Back Bay Fens, where it was originally built and dedicated in a 1920 ceremony led by Gov. Calvin Coolidge himself.

That the statue now sits in a square named for somebody best known for his role in starting Massachusetts, who died in 1649 - 110 years before the birth of a poet best known for a poem whose first few lines get slurred every New Year's, is your basic story of how things got done in Kevin White's Boston. As Sam Allis recounted in a 2010 column, a developer who rehabbed 1 Winthrop Square back in the 1970s wanted to decorate the square with a statue of John Winthrop, so he asked a Back Bay church that had one to let him use theirs. Of course, they said no, and the guy didn't care enough to commission a new statue of Winthrop.

Fortunately for him, he was pals with the head of the city art commission, who figured, what the hell, nobody cares about the Burns statue in the Fens, so he suggested that. And so Burns and his faithful dog have been confusing the few tourists Winthrop Square gets since 1975.

When the BPDA asked for public comments on the Millennium Partners proposal, the Fenway Civic Association saw its chance to get back the statue it says was "purloined" from the Fens back in the day, and filed a formal request that the statue be moved back to its original home:

The Robert Burns statue was created by sculptor Henry Hudson O'Reilly and originally situated in proximity to sculptor Daniel Chester French's monument to John Boyle O'Reilly in the Back Bay Fens. The juxtaposition of the two works was a deliberate way to honor Scottish and Irish literary figures in a pastoral setting reminiscent of the locales within the body of their literary works. Further, the Burns statue possesses continued relevance in the Fenway neighborhood, with Peterborough, Kilmarnock and Queensberry streets in the abutting West Fenway named after locations in Burns's works. Given its significance and ties to the neighborhood, it was unfortunate that this statue was removed from the Fenway, without notice or public process, for the benefit of a private developer.

Contemporary report on the statue's unveiling, including a lengthy poem.
Photo of the statue when it was still in the Fens.
List of BPDA questions and comments by other city departments on the proposed tower (31M PDF).
Comments from the public on the proposed tower (35M PDF).

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Comments

Ye banks and braes o' bonie

Ye banks and braes o' bonie Doon,
How can ye bloom sae fresh and fair?
How can ye chant, ye little birds,
And I sae weary fu' o' care!
Thou'll break my heart, thou warbling bird,
That wantons thro' the flowering thorn:
Thou minds me o' departed joys,
Departed never to return.

Aft hae I rov'd by Bonie Doon,
To see the rose and woodbine twine:
And ilka bird sang o' its Luve,
And fondly sae did I o' mine;
Wi' lightsome heart I pu'd a rose,
Fu' sweet upon its thorny tree!
And may fause Luver staw my rose,
But ah! he left the thorn wi' me.

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Voting closed 63

Translation

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Do I have this correct?

You banks and hills of pretty Doon
How can you bloom so fresh and fair?
How can you chant, you little birds,
and I so weary full of care!

You'll break my heart, you warbling bird,
that frolics through the flowering thorn:
You remind me of departed days,
departed never to return

Often have I roved by pretty Doon
to see the rose and honeysuckle entwine:
and every bird sang of it's love,
and fondly so did I of mine;
with a carefree heart I pulled a rose,
full sweet upon its thorny tree!
And may false lover fix my rose,
but, ah!, he left the thorn with me.

Those last two lines are kind of throwing me off.

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Voting closed 37

My false lover

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Read "my" for "may".

so, with Irma's suggestion -

And my false lover stole my rose,
But ah! he left the thorn with me.

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Voting closed 25

Ah

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D
Oooooor
A
Bill

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Voting closed 18

purloined statute?

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Statutes are pretty hard to purloin. I think you meant "statue."

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Voting closed 24

So just move it

Why can't Boston just move the statue back? What's this got to do with the new building?

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Voting closed 17

Part of the Tommy Tower

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Part of the Tommy Tower project involves a redo of the plaza and new public art in Winthrop Square. Easier to move things as part of a larger effort happening anyway than a one off request.

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Voting closed 18

$$$

City trying to save a few bucks...

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Voting closed 24

While I appreciate The Haven

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While I appreciate The Haven immensely, I would prefer to see it in the Back Bay / Fens where more people will see the statue.

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Voting closed 22

Where?

So where in the fens was this statue back in the day?

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Voting closed 21

According to Wikipedia ...

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[I]ts granite plinth is still visible on the bridle path behind the Boston Fire Alarm Office and adjacent to Agassiz Road.

Source.

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Voting closed 12

Don't mess with Luath

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Robert Burns was a great poet but his loyal pup Luath is the key figure in this great piece of public art. Dog lovers will not be happy if Luath is not given the respect a faithful dog deserves.

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Voting closed 24

Fenway street names

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The quote from the Fenway Civic Assocition claims that “Peterborough, Kilmarnock and Queensberry streets” are “named after locations in Burns's works“. I have heard this before, but it is doubtful. Kilmarnock was an important place in Burns’ life - his first book was published there - but, though there is Queensbury in Scotland, and a Marquess of Queensbury, it is not mentioned in Burns’ works, and Peterborough is in Cambridgeshire, in England. What all these do have in common, along with all the other alphabet streets except one ( Fairfield, I think), is that they are the names of Lordships - baronies, earldoms, dukedoms, etc. - in Great Britain

Mind you, I don’t think there was any fealty to British aristocracy involved; the names were intended to imply a certain gentility, just as streets are named in suburban subdivisions.

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Voting closed 57

Which

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are the Burns-related names?

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Voting closed 46

keep the building from going

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keep the building from going up as the city's blandest skyscraper

such a ridiculously stupid concern

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Voting closed 15

Enjoy the last days...

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... of sunlight and the feel of open space at Winthrop Square before Millennium Partners swallows it up. If they have their way, it will be but a memory soon.

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Voting closed 50

Meh

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It's a little bit of green space in a congested area, while the building that this is replacing is an eyesore. Looking at the Google Street View of the square, it looks like its main purpose now is to provide a place for bike couriers to hang out between calls. If it were the building that directly abuts the park that was being replaced, I could see concerns. Otherwise, this is what the city needs to do.

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Voting closed 37

The standard reply when your courier is missing in Boston

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Is to say he's probably shredding it up down in Winthrop Square, (dude). Although to be fair they probably have more discreet places to smoke weed that I don't know about. Other than the parking lot next to JJ Foleys I mean.

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Voting closed 25

Removed?

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"Burns was in financial difficulties due to his want of success in farming, and to make enough money to support a family he took up an offer of work in Jamaica from Dr Patrick Douglas of Garrallan, Old Cumnock, whose sugar plantations outside Port Antonio were managed by his brother Charles, under whom Burns was to be a "book keeper" (assistant overseer of slaves)....."

With our reaction to Civil War Monuments in this country - why would we not remove this based on Burns history?

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Voting closed 32

Reading Further

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It appears that his experiences in that position lead him to write The Slavers Lament.

To put it simply, Burns was anti-slavery.

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Voting closed 33

Reading even further

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Burns never actually went to Jamaica - he didn't have the money for passage

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Voting closed 47

Voice to text?

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Adam, I'm guessing this isn't quite right:
"a developer who 1 Winthrop Square back in the 1970s "

Should probably be either:
"a developer who won Winthrop Square back in the 1970s"
or
"a developer of 1 Winthrop Square back in the 1970s"

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Voting closed 40

You're right

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But not voice-to-text. Will fix, thanks.

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Voting closed 11

Messy

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Are the bike messengers Burns fans?

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Voting closed 40

Winhrop Square is a great little urban oasis.

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Especially for the Financial District/ Downtown Crossing area. A great little park filled with actual trees and small buildings, without a lot of visitors. If you're gonna squat somewhere that's a great place for it.

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Voting closed 36