- Mini Bio
- Name: Robert Burns
- Born: 25th January 1759, Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland
- Died: 21st July 1796, Dumfries, Scotland
- Resting place: Burns Mausoleum, Dumfries
- Alma mater: Home schooled by his father William Burnes and by John Murdoch
- Occupation: Farmer and Poet
- Nicknames: Rabbie Burns, The Bard of Ayrshire and the Ploughman Poet
- Literary movement: Romanticism
- Title: National Poet of Scotland
- Notable works: To a Mouse (1785), Halloween (1786), The Battle of Sherramuir (1787), Auld Lang Syne (1788), Ae Fond Kiss (1791), Tam O'Shanter (1791), Scots Wha Hae (1793), A Red Red Rose (1794) and A Man's a Man for A' That (1795)
- Marriage resume: Jean Armour 1788-1796 (his death)
- Influenced by: Allan Ramsay, Alexander Pope, Bannockburn, Bonnie Prince Charlie, John Milton, John Murdoch, Robert Fergusson, Robert The Bruce, Tobias Smollett, William Shenstone and William Wallace
- Inspired: Abraham Lincoln, Alexander McLachlan, Bing Crosby, Bob Dylan, Frank Lebby Stanton, Frank Sinatra, James Whitcomb Riley, Jean Redpath, Jerome David Salinger, John Steinbeck, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Samuil Marshak, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth
- Trivia: Every new years eve millions of people welcome in the new year singing Auld Lang Syne, yet, very few know this song came from the pen of Robert Burns
"There is a naïveté, a pastoral simplicity, in a slight intermixture of Scots words and phraseology, which is more in unison … with the simple pathos or rustic sprightliness of our native music, than any English verses whatever"Robert Burns
"Here was tasteless insipidity, vulgarity of soul, and mercenary fawning; there polished good sense, heaven-born genius, and the most generous, the most delicate, the most tender passion"Robert Burns
"The heavy-armed veteran regulars of wisdom, prudence, and forethought move so very, very slow, that I am almost in a state of perpetual warfare, and, alas! frequent defeat"Robert Burns
"I lie so miserably open to the inroads and incursions of a mischievous, light-armed, well-mounted banditti, under the banners of imagination, whim, caprice, and passion"Robert Burns
"I never had the least thought or inclination of turning poet till I got once heartily in love, and then rhyme and song were in a manner, the spontaneous language of my heart"Robert Burns
"Mankind are by nature benevolent creatures, except in a few scoundrelly instances. I do not think that avarice of the good things we chance to have, is born with us"Robert Burns
"This morning I knelt at the tomb of Sir John the Graham, the gallant friend of the immortal Wallace; and two hours ago I said a fervent prayer for old Caledonia"Robert Burns
"I have formed many intimacies and friendships here, but I am afraid they are all of too tender a construction to bear carriage a hundred and fifty miles"Robert Burns
"I am here at the very elbow of existence. The only things that are to be found in this country, in any degree of perfection, are stupidity and canting"Robert Burns
"What an extraordinary prodigal of affection! Why are your sex called the tender sex, when I have never met with one who can repay me in passion?"Robert Burns
"I hate, the very idea of a controversial divinity; as I firmly believe that every honest upright man, of whatever sect, will be accepted of the Deity"Robert Burns
"I foresee that poverty and obscurity probably await me, and I am in some measure prepared and daily preparing to meet them"Robert Burns
"Now's the day, and now's the hour; See the front o' battle lour! See approach proud Edward's power - Chains and slaverie!"Robert Burns
"I have ever looked on Mankind in the lump, to be nothing better than a foolish, headstrong, credulous, unthinking mob"Robert Burns
"By Oppression's woes and pains! By your sons in servile chains! We sill drain our dearest veins, but they shall be free"Robert Burns
"Of the poetry I speak with confidence; but the music is a business where I hint my ideas with the utmost diffidence"Robert Burns
"The best laid schemes o' mice and men gang aft a-gley; and leave us naught but grief and pain for promised joy"Robert Burns
"The voice of Nature loudly cries, and many a message from the skies, that something in us never dies"Robert Burns
"The social, friendly, honest man, whate'er he be, 'Tis he fulfills great Nature's plan, and none but he"Robert Burns
"Lay the proud usurpers low! Tyrants fall in every foe! Liberty's in every blow-Let us do or die"Robert Burns
"The character and employment of a poet were formerly my pleasure, but are now my pride"Robert Burns
"Princes and lords are but the breath of kings, an honest man's the noblest work of God"Robert Burns
"Affliction's sons are brothers in distress; A brother to relieve,- how exquisite the bliss!"Robert Burns
"Amid this mighty fuss just let me mention, the rights of woman merit some attention"Robert Burns
"If there's another world, he lives in bliss; If there is none, he made the best of this"Robert Burns
"To be a poet is my highest ambition, my dearest wish, and my unwearied study"Robert Burns
"God knows, I'm no the thing I should be, nor am I even the thing I could be"Robert Burns
"O Life! how pleasant is thy morning, young Fancy's rays the hills adorning"Robert Burns
"Chords that vibrate sweetest pleasure thrill the deepest notes of woe"Robert Burns
"What 's done we partly may compute, but know not what 's resisted"Robert Burns
"But, oh! fell death's untimely frost, that nipt my flower sae early"Robert Burns
"When chill November's surly blast made fields and forests bare"Robert Burns
"I'm truly sorry man's dominion has broken Nature's social union"Robert Burns
"For never but by British hands Maun British wrangs be righted"Robert Burns
"Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn"Robert Burns
"The wide world is all before us - but a world without a friend"Robert Burns
"Critics! Those cut-throat bandits in the paths of fame"Robert Burns
"I sing the juice Scotch bear can mak us, in glass or jug"Robert Burns
"Beauty's of a fading nature has a season and is gone"Robert Burns
"And like a passing thought, she fled in light away"Robert Burns
"Prudent, cautious self-control is wisdom's root"Robert Burns
"That hour, o' night's black arch the keystane"Robert Burns
"Nature's law, that man was made to mourn"Robert Burns
"My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go"Robert Burns
"Who know them best despise them most"Robert Burns
"Suspense is worse than disappointment"Robert Burns
"Some books are lies frae end to end"Robert Burns
"Nae man can tether time or tide"Robert Burns
"O what a fool I am in love"Robert Burns
"Life is but a day at most"Robert Burns
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The Legacy of Robert Burns
Back in the day, many so called wiser literary critics encouraged Burns to bathe in his mastery of the English language and use this to broaden his audience. Burns resisted, he opted to strengthen his embrace of the colloquial tongue which gave his verse an authentic feel of the rustic glen.
His commitment to poetry in the Scottish dialect limited his success during his lifetime but gifted him literary immortality. His is a legacy of appreciative ears of generations of Scottish people eager to embrace their cultural heritage. The greater Scottish diaspora carry an enduring sense of identity that transcends generations and becomes an important part of the family persona.
To search for the Scottish identity invariably leads to Robert Burns. His statue stands proud in cities spanning the globe from Tallinn to Toronto and Dundee to Detroit. His image has appeared on stamps and banknotes whilst his name has even been given to a crater on the planet Mercury.
Burns night, on 25th January, has become a worldwide institution whereby more than nine million people annually partake in poetry recitals during the Burns supper which consists of the traditional Scottish fayre of haggis, mashed turnips and potatoes.
Robert Burns Controversies
The bard of Ayrshire has faced many posthumous attacks on both his work and his character. His poetry stands its ground as staunchly as The Bruce did at the Battle of Bannockburn.
His character? He was a poet, no more and no less than the bed hopping Lord Byron who was labelled as mad, bad and dangerous to know; or Percy Bysshe Shelley whose trail of destruction saw him notoriously tagged as mad Shelley; or Alexander Pushkin who fought 28 duels, mostly over women, but the 29th duel witnessed his untimely demise; or Charles Baudelaire who did not have to wait centuries for a woke character assassination as the French authorities banned his 1857 poems Les Fleurs du Mal and charged him with offences against public decency.
It took 100 years for Baudelaire's work to be removed from the banned list so he could retake his place in the canon of French poets. Hopefully the Scots do not bend to any woke agenda disparaging this Scottish National Treasure to satisfy some petulant egos
Quotes About Robert Burns
The U.S. President, Abraham Lincoln, spoke of learning the qualities of human compassion from Burns:
"From Shakespeare I learnt the sonnets. From the bible, the scriptures. But it was from that man I learnt humanity"
Lincoln's secretary John Hay once had to inform an inquisitive senator who did not understand a presidential recital of Burns:
"The President adores the Scotchman who wrote it. He reads him constantly and recites him every evening. He says he would not be the man he was, would not have won the war, indeed would not have been President, had it not been for Robert Burns"
Lincoln went on to say:
"Now we have won this great war, I must make good on my promise to go to Scotland and pay homage to the man without whom everything would be different. Tomorrow you must book my passage"
The ticket was booked, but, a few days later, the trigger of John Wilkes Booth's gun put paid to Lincoln's dream of walking in the footsteps of Scottish poetic greatness
The writer Alec Ross shared this thoughtful appraisal:
"Here was a man destined to reach for the sky with his feet forever in Ayrshire clay. Here was a man who, despite possessing a once in a generation mind, was bound through class and through prejudice and through circumstance to walk through the valley of compromise; a man tortured by the knowledge that his background would never allow him to become the person he instinctively knew himself to be"
The literary critic William Hazlitt shared this comparison:
"Burns was not like Shakespeare in the range of his genius; but there is something of the same magnanimity, directness, and unaffected character about him"
The poet Fitzroy-Greene Halleck was inspired to verse:
"And Burns, though brief the race he ran, though rough and dark the path he trod, lived, died, in form and soul a man, the image of his God"
The verse of Fitzroy-Greene went on to describe Burns thus:
"He kept his honesty and truth, his independent tongue and pen, and moved, in manhood as in youth, pride of his fellow-men"
Fitzroy Greene concluded the poem with a verse the ploughman poet would be proud of:
"But what to them the sculptor’s art, his funeral columns, wreaths, and urns? Wear they not graven on the heart the name of Robert Burns?"
Ralph Waldo Emerson shared this insight:
"Burns knew how to take from fairs and gypsies, blacksmiths and drovers, the speech of the market and street, and clothe it with melody"
His teacher, John Murdoch talked of his academic progress:
"My pupil, Robert Burns, was then between six and seven years of age ... (he) and his younger brother Gilbert had been grounded a little in English before they were put under my care. They both made a rapid progress in reading, and a tolerable progress in writing. In reading, dividing words into syllables, spelling without book, parsing sentences, etc., Robert and Gilbert were generally at the upper end of the class, even when ranged with boys by far their seniors"
Murdoch went onto say:
"Gilbert always appeared to me to possess a more lively imagination, and to be more of a wit, than Robert. I attempted to teach them a little church-music. Here they were left far behind by all the rest of the school. Robert's ear, in particular, was remarkably dull, and his voice untunable. It was long before I could get them to distinguish one tune from another. Robert's countenance was generally grave and expressive of a serious, contemplative and thoughtful mind"
Years later, Murdoch wrote in a letter to Burns:
"If ever you come hither, you will have the satisfaction of seeing your poems relished by the Caledonians in London full as much as they can be by those of Edinburgh. We frequently repeat some of your verses in our Caledonian Society, and you may believe I am not a little vain that I have had some share in cultivating such a genius"
The scholar Karyn Wilson-Costa shared this view:
"Robert Burns was above all a poet of sentiment but there was too much force and energy in him for him to tarry too long in thoughtful sadness. The antidote lay in love and poetry"
The Scottish actor James Cosmo walked in his footsteps to an enlightened understanding:
"I’ve always been passionate about Burns and consider myself to be knowledgeable about the writer, but it’s only after travelling across our beautiful country to the places which inspired him to write that I now feel I understand the man who became Scotland’s literary hero"
The actor Sean Connery had this to say about his fellow Scot:
"Robert Burns is one of the world’s greatest songwriters. Bard. Bawd. A poet’s poet. A poet for all seasons. But are we up to the essential genius of the man? For genius he was"
The celebrated writer D. H. Lawrence shared this view:
"My word you can’t know Burns unless you can hate the Lockharts and all the estimable bourgeois and upper classes as he really did – the narrow gutted pigeons. Don’t for God’s sake be mealy-mouthed like them. I’d like to write a Burns life. Oh, why doesn’t Burns come to life again and really salt them"
The poet Don Paterson shared this assessment:
"Burns' central insight is that the spiritual, the social, the sexual, the natural, the political and the humorous are overlapping human realms, not separate or competing ones"
The TV presenter Jeremy Paxman plumbed the depths of controversial critique with this comment:
"I'm afraid I find the Scottish national poet no more than a king of sentimental doggerel"
The poet Morag Anderson was less than impressed:
"I struggle to understand the ongoing appetite for Robert Burns - he is more myth than man"
Anderson went further by stating:
"I would like Scotland to remove the tartan blinkers and take an honest look at Robert Burns: celebrate that which is worthy of celebration but attend to the misogyny and abuse which is rife throughout his work"
The journalist Katrina Patrick displayed a more positive appreciation:
"Burns possesses the spirit as well as the fancy of a poet"
The scholar Allen Packwood revealed that Winston Churchill was an admirer:
"In his speech accepting freedom of the city of Edinburgh in 1942, he quoted Robert Burns"
Janette Ayachi shared this observation:
"I love the fact that Scotland is the only country in the world that annually holds a holiday to pay homage to a poet, a festivity that also carries to other continents. I wish that never, ever ceases to circle"
The poet Edwin Muir once observed that Burns is:
"to the respectable, a decent man; to the Rabelaisian, bawdy; to the sentimentalist, sentimental; to the socialist, a revolutionary; to the nationalist, a patriot; to the religious, pious"
The author Yann Tholoniat described him thus:
"Robert Burns is no less than a visionary. Before Wordsworth, and with a more combative tone"
The writer Andrew O'Hagan expressed this view:
"Robert Burns was in no way a simple nationalist and a wild patriot - he died in the employ of the British Excise - but his work nevertheless captures the essence of Scottish working folk on the brink of the industrial revolution"
The poet Walt Whitman made this comparison:
"Burns has been applauded for our purposes as democratic, and with some warrant; while Shakespeare, and with the greatest warrant, has been called monarchical or aristocratic"
The author Gerard Carruthers spoke of his legacy:
"Burns speaks strongly to people through his words which still have resonance right up to today, not just in Scotland"