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ROBERT BURNS

Robert Burns was Scotland's greatest poet and many would say that he was the world's greatest ever poet.

Burns was born at Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland on 25 January 1759 and died in Dumfries on 21 July 1796. In less than 37 years of life he accomplished more than most people do in a normal lifetime.

The son of a farmer, Burns was the oldest of seven children, all of whom had to help in the work on the farm. Although never well off, Burns' father, until his death in 1784, encouraged his sons with their education. As a result, Burns as a boy not only read Scottish poetry but also the works of Pope, Locke, and Shakespeare. By 1781, Burns had tried his hand at several agricultural jobs without success. Although he had begun writing, and his poems were circulated widely in manuscript, none were published until 1786. At this time he had already begun a life of dissipation, and he was not only discouraged but poor and was involved simultaneously with several women.

Burns decided to marry Mary Campbell and migrate to Jamaica. To help finance the journey, he published at Kilmarnock Poems (1786), which was an immediate success. Mary Campbell died before she and Burns could marry and Burns changed his mind about migration. He toured the Highlands, brought out a second edition of his poems at Edinburgh in 1787, and for two winters was socially prominent in the Scottish capital city. In 1788 he married Jean Armour, who had borne him four children and retired to a farm at Ellisland. By 1791 Burns had failed as a farmer and he moved to nearby Dumfries, where he held a position as an exciseman. He died at 37 after a severe attack of rheumatic fever.

Burns’s art is at its best in songs such as Flow Gently, Sweet Afton, My Heart’s in the Highlands, and John Anderson My Jo. Some of his work, such as Auld Lang Syne is among the most familiar and best-loved songs and poems in the English language. But his talent was not confined to song; two descriptive pieces, Tam o’ Shanter and The Jolly Beggars, are among his masterpieces. Burns had a fantastic sense of humour which was reflected in his satirical, descriptive, and naughty verse.

His great popularity with the Scots lies in his ability to depict with loving accuracy the life of his fellow rural Scots, as he did in The Cotter’s Saturday Night. His use of dialect brought a stimulating, much-needed freshness and raciness into British poetry but Burns’s greatness extends beyond the limits of dialect. His poems are written about Scots, but, in tune with the rising humanitarianism of his day, they apply to a multitude of universal problems. Socialists, communists, atheists and anarchists all claim that Robert Burns was one of their founding fathers.

In commemoration of Roberts Burns, Burns Suppers are held throughout the world on, or about, his birthday on 25th January. Burns Suppers normally highlight a major speech and toast to the Immortal Memory with other toasts to The Lassies and The Guests. The haggis is piped in by a piper and split open to the words of the immortal poem To a Haggis.

Address to a Haggis.

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o need,
While thro your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An cut you up wi ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
The auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
'Bethankit' hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect sconner,
Looks down wi sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit:
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He'll make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.

Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!