Robert Burns's poetic address 'To Mary in Heaven', also known as 'Thou Ling'ring Star', was once immensely popular among Scottish expatriates and Burns enthusiasts in British colonies. Unusually for Burns, it is written in a highly formal mode of English, and set to a deliberately composed tune rather than one 'found' in the context of traditional Scottish musical culture. In New Zealand, it has an extensive history of performance, in verse and song, from the earliest colonial period through to the aftermath of the First World War. An investigation into the poem's reception in early colonial New Zealand reveals the works of Burns to be not just 'a symphony and a synthesis of Scottish song and nationality', as some contemporary commentators suggested, but the foundation upon which a new, transcultural Scots–New Zealand cultural identity could be established.
This essay uses nineteenth- and early twentieth-century New Zealand newspapers to map the ways in which 'Thou Ling'ring Star' was used by emigrant Scottish communities. It engages with critical debates about the diasporic Burns to argue for the importance of "minor" Burns pieces in that diaspora.