Robert Burns, Scotland’s national Bard, came from humble origins and in his short life (he died at 37) wrote a great number of poems, and collected and preserved many traditional Scottish songs. He was born in Alloway, Ayrshire on 25 January, 1759 to poor tenant farmers, and was the oldest of seven. He wrote his first love poems at the age of 15, largely to impress girls, and his interest both in poetic expression and women never left him. In fact, in his short life he fathered 12 children, nine of them with his wife, Jean Armour.
He was immensely proud of his Scottishness and of his working-class roots – both of which are keystones of his poetry. When he was 25, his father died, and he and his brother took over the running of the farm, without much success. He was about to move abroad to seek his fortune, but changed his mind after his first volume of poetry was published, gaining him a degree of financial success and an influential fan base in Edinburgh.
After the money from the book ran out, he got a job as a customs officer, and, inspired by the thinking behind the French Revolution, began to explore more deeply the concepts of social inequality. Many of his new poems explored the disparity between rich and poor. A good example of this is A Man’s A Man for a’ That. It wasn’t just Burns’ opinions about the divide between rich and poor that gave his poetry a powerful appeal around the world: he explored everything that resonates with the human condition. Love (see A Red, Red Rose), desire, human foibles and hypocrisy (see Holy Willy’s Prayer) and the natural world (see Composed in Spring) were all subjects that he absorbed and interpreted, and that is why he is still deeply admired across the planet.
Happy Rabbie Burns Night!
Who is Rabbie Burns, you ask? From Scotland.org: