About Robbie Burns
Robbie was born on a farm in Ayr and lived at a time of reformation, discovery and revolution. Robbie tended the fields and studied. He briefly became a flax spinner in Irvine, a busy sea port, before returning to the family farm and writing his first book “Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect” published in Kilmarnock in 1786. He quickly became famous both in Edinburgh and throughout Great Britain. He toured the regions of Scotland enjoying raucous company and rigorous intellectual debate while penning his poems and songs including “Auld Langs Syne,” “My Love Is Like a Red Red Rose” and “To a Mouse” before dying of illness aged 37 on July 25th, 1796.
His funeral was attended by thousands. On the day he was buried his 14th child “Maxwell” was born.
11 Interesting Things To Know About The Scottish Poet Robbie Burns
There are volumes of books, lessons, biographies and literature papers published on the life and times of Robbie Burns. For those new to Robert “Robbie” Burns here are eleven interesting things to learn about “the Bard”…
- A BARD BY MANY NAMES: Robbie Burns was christened “Robert” and in everyday life he was (and still is) known as “Robbie” or “Rabbie.” He often would switch names signing works depending on his mood. On the rare occasion if family or friends wanted to tease or scold on occasion he would be called “Bob” or Bobbie.” Once he became famous he liked the moniker of “The Bard of Scotland” and today he is simply affectionately known as “the Bard.”
- 25th JANUARY IS ROBBIE BURNS DAY: January 25th is officially known as “Robbie Burns Day” with celebrations of all things great and Scottish and culminate in the traditional “Burns Supper” feast. For the Scots Robbie Burns day holds the equivalent in patriotism and importance as St. Patrick’s day is to the Irish or the fourth of July is for Americans. His birthday has become an important annual ceremonial day for folks with Celtic heritage. It is a day to rejoice and celebrate his life, his works and the things that he stood for.
- THE BURNS SUPPER: First held in 1802 by close friends 5 years after his death the Burns Supper is all about celebrating the life and works of Robbie Burns. It is held on/ or near/ January 25th and depending on the event protocol it can very formal with black tie, pomp and fine dress, or it can be relaxed and/or boisterous and they are always a lot of fun. A traditional Burns Supper includes the reciting of Burns’ poems, the playing of Scottish music and speeches and toasts. The first toast is in honour of the ladies present given by a male, followed in kind with a lady delivering her speech and a toast to the men. The Burns poem; “An Ode to a Haggis” may be read to the crowd and the haggis saluted and carved with a sword as part of the ceremony.
- THE ROMANTIC LOVER: Love and romance form the basis of much of his work, with many poems dedicated to the joys and heartaches of romance. He was a quite a handsome fellow and in Scotland he is as famous as a lover as he is a poet. Robbie had 14 children from his three official wives and also had many other-lovers. Today he is regarded as the finest romantic poet in British literature.
- THE BARD: Robbie is acclaimed and acknowledged as one of the most insightful and articulate authors and songwriters from the 1700’s. Along with Shakespeare and Chaucer the works of Robbie Burns are included as compulsory reading as part of school curriculum in the UK and in many other countries around the world. Robert “Robbie” Burns is directly credited with authoring over 650 poems and songs written in old-Scottish and traditional English. He must have written many more that are lost to literature. A 1968 Oxford University Press publication of Robbie’s poems, songs, letters and creative writing by James Kingsley had three volumes and was over 1,500 pages! As a travelling poet he would often compose on the spot in honour of the host or of the grand company that he had met. He travelled wth a diamond tipped pencil and scratched his prose onto windowpanes or onto bar room chimneys. Today many of his poetic engravings still survive and can be found in towns of Edinburgh, Falkirk and Dumfries and many other towns and places across Scotland.
- PUBLIC MONUMENTS: There are more than sixty-five dedicated public statues and monuments for Robbie (or Robert) Burns worldwide. After his death around the world towns would erect their own statues of Robert “Robbie” Burns. There is a folks saying that only Columbus and Queen Victoria have more public-statues devoted to them. His birthplace is a museum owned by the Scottish National Trust. Nea Edinburgh Castle is a national monument in his honour. Robbie also has a dedicated stained glass in the Edinburgh Cathedral.
- THE NEW YEARS EVE ANTHEM: “Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne? “ “Auld Lang Syne” is a song about a friendly banter amongst friends to times gone by and was written by Robbie Burns in 1788. When sending it for publishing he noted that he had first heard a version of the song before “from an old man” and may or may not have authored the first verse. However Robbie is credited with the entirety of the song. Today it is sung at graduations, farewells, funeral toasts, and by millions of people around the world on at New Years Eve celebrations.
- A MAN FROM THE LAND, FOR THE LAND: Robbie was born in 1759 the small town of Alloway, south west Scotland on the banks of the river Doon. (The stone farmers cottage where he was born is now a Scottish National Trust Museum). His respect, awe and love of nature is evident in his works. An example is “Ode to a Mouse” a touching reflection on destruction of a mouses habitat that still echoes in relevance in todays time of environmental destruction. If he were alive today Robbie would be rousing folks against the levels of destruction and loss of habitat to the environment caused by the modern world.
- AN EDUCATED FARMER: Robbie’s mother Agnes taught him how to sing at a young age. They would sing songs about local folk stories and recite Scottish poems that he would remember with great clarity. Robbie also gratefully acknowledged his father William for teaching him to “enjoy the true meaning of a word. “ He was schooled at home and studied grammar and French.
- A GLOBAL CITIZEN: Robbie was well informed of the various revolutions and wars around the world . Growing up on a farm did not stop Robbie from becoming educated. The buy local port Ayr was an hub for trade with Europe and the Americas. Robbie grew up interacting and meeting peoples from around the world. At one point in his life he planned to move to exotic Jamaica. The success of his first book convinced him to stay in Scotland.
- A REBELLIOUS EGALITARIAN: Robbie was born into a pious, poor and hard working home. His parents Agnes William Burnes (*Robbie preferred to spell it Burns) did not own land instead the family tilled and worked the farmland under a tenure agreement. Hard labor and a lack of a full nutritious diet had a detrimental affect on his long-term health. A childhood education (rare at the time) and his own parent’s views on Celtic history, politics and religion bred a sharp minded and revolutionary streak in young Robbie. It manifested in his poems and songs rebelling against the social or religious norms of the mid-1700’s. Robbie repeatedly penned his love and lifelong bond and love for the common man, and mocked his political opponents of the time. Enveloped in humour and wit his words were often rebellious against the ruling classes of the day. Even after he rose to fame he wrote about his love of humanity and his dislike of those who thought themselves as “superior” by simply being born into privilege. His works also highlight his perseverance to encourage others to question authoritarian views wether political or religious. Later in life his commentary on the actions of local ruling class, and vocal sympathies with the French and American revolutions got him into trouble and nearly cost him his job as an excise officer (a tax man!). Robbie did clearly enjoy the “classless” company of the local Freemasons club and wrote about his joy to discuss the matters of the day in a place where everyone was treated with equal respect and good company.