From traditional ballads and romantic songs to humorous satires and thought-provoking poems, Robert Burns composed some of the world’s most instantly recognisable lines of poetry and song lyrics.
Whether his subject was a man or a mouse (or even a louse), our National Bard had a rare talent for putting himself into others’ shoes and expressing life’s universal emotions. His words have been cherished and passionately recited for the past two centuries. Indeed, it’s because of this great man that we promise, every Hogmanay, to ‘tak a cup o’ kindness’ with our neighbours and go forward into the new year with a sense of belonging and hope for the future.
THE LIFE OF ROBERT BURNS
Robert Burns was born on 25 January 1759, on a dark and windy night in the village of Alloway in Ayrshire. He died just 37 years later, at his home in Dumfries, from an illness that sadly would have been easily treatable today.
Despite his short life Burns left a huge catalogue of poetry and songs that have been pored over, enjoyed and spoken aloud for over 200 years. His timeless words have echoed throughout the generations, inspiring people from every walk of life.
Although he left a great legacy, Burns’ start in life was a humble one. He was born the son of poor tenant farmers and was the eldest of seven children. Even with the family’s money struggles, his father recognised the importance of education and ensured that, alongside working on the family farm, his children were given the opportunity to read and learn.
There were signs of Robert’s exceptional writing talent from an early age – at 15 he penned his first love poems – though it was not until 1786 at the age of 27 that he rose to fame with the publication of his first collection of poetry, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. This masterful collection made a huge impression on Edinburgh’s literary elite, and propelled Burns to celebrity status.
In his personal life, Burns dedicated hundreds of lines of verse to the fairer sex and went on to father 12 children, nine with his wife Jean Armour. He was also a passionately proud Scot – he even spent many years collecting and preserving traditional Scottish songs for the future.
For all his fame, Burns never forgot his roots. His love for farming stayed with him throughout his life and his writing often dealt with issues affecting the poorer classes, notably highlighting the need for greater social equality. You’ll see all of these influences captured in his dazzling collections of poetry and song – his lasting legacy to the world.
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6 GREAT BURNS ATTRACTIONS
Step inside the cottage where Burns was born or sip a pint in his favourite drinking hole, The Globe Inn. At the Writers’ Museum in Edinburgh you can see the desk where he composed some of his most famous works or pop into Rozelle House Galleries to view a series of 54 stunning paintings which depict the tale of Tam o’ Shanter.