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About this poet

Born in Alloway, Scotland, on January 25, 1759, Robert Burns was the first of William and Agnes Burnes' seven children. His father, a tenant farmer, educated his children at home. Burns also attended one year of mathematics schooling and, between 1765 and 1768, he attended an "adventure" school established by his father and John Murdock. His father died in bankruptcy in 1784, and Burns and his brother Gilbert took over farm. This hard labor later contributed to the heart trouble that Burns' suffered as an adult.

At the age of fifteen, he fell in love and shortly thereafter he wrote his first poem. As a young man, Burns pursued both love and poetry with uncommon zeal. In 1785, he fathered the first of his fourteen children. His biographer, DeLancey Ferguson, had said, "it was not so much that he was conspicuously sinful as that he sinned conspicuously." Between 1784 and 1785, Burns also wrote many of the poems collected in his first book, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, which was printed in 1786 and paid for by subscriptions. This collection was an immediate success and Burns was celebrated throughout England and Scotland as a great "peasant-poet."

In 1788, he and his wife, Jean Armour, settled in Ellisland, where Burns was given a commission as an excise officer. He also began to assist James Johnson in collecting folk songs for an anthology entitled The Scots Musical Museum. Burns' spent the final twelve years of his life editing and imitating traditional folk songs for this volume and for Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs. These volumes were essential in preserving parts of Scotland's cultural heritage and include such well-known songs as "My Luve is Like a Red Red Rose" and "Auld Land Syne." Robert Burns died from heart disease at the age of thirty-seven. On the day of his death, Jean Armour gave birth to his last son, Maxwell.

Most of Burns' poems were written in Scots. They document and celebrate traditional Scottish culture, expressions of farm life, and class and religious distinctions. Burns wrote in a variety of forms: epistles to friends, ballads, and songs. His best-known poem is the mock-heroic Tam o' Shanter. He is also well known for the over three hundred songs he wrote which celebrate love, friendship, work, and drink with often hilarious and tender sympathy. Burns died on July 21, 1796, at the age of 37. Even today, he is often referred to as the National Bard of Scotland.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (1786)
Tam O' Shanter (1795)
The Cotters Saturday Night (1795)
The Jolly Beggars (1799)
Burns' Poetical Works (1824)

To a Mouse,

Robert Burns, 1759 - 1796

On Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough, November 1785.

Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie,
O' what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
                        Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
                        Wi' murdering pattle.

   I'm truly sorry man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion,
                        Which maks thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion
                        An' fellow mortal!

   I doubt na' whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
                        'S a sma' request:
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,
                        And never miss't!

   Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin!
It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!
An' naething, now, to big a new ane,
                        O' foggage green!
An' bleak December's win's ensuin,
                        Baith snell and keen!

   Thou saw the fields laid bare an' waste,
An' weary winter comin fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
                        Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
                        Out thro' thy cell.

   That wee bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou's turned out, for a' thy trouble,
                        But house or hald,
To thole the winter's sleety dribble,
                        An' cranreuch cauld.

   But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men,
                        Gang aft a-gley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
                        For promis'd joy.

   Still thou are blest, compared wi' me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e'e,
                        On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
                        I guess an' fear!

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

Robert Burns

Robert Burns

Born in Alloway, Scotland, on January 25, 1759, Robert Burns was the

by this poet

poem
O were my love yon Lilac fair,  
  Wi' purple blossoms to the Spring,
And I, a bird to shelter there,  
  When wearied on my little wing!
How I wad mourn when it was torn         
  By Autumn wild, and Winter rude!
But I wad sing on wanton wing,  
  When youthfu' May its bloom renew'd. 
O gin my love were
poem
I'm now arrived—thanks to the gods!—  
  Thro' pathways rough and muddy,  
A certain sign that makin roads  
  Is no this people's study:  
Altho' Im not wi' Scripture cram'd,         
  I'm sure the Bible says  
That heedless sinners shall be damn'd,  
  Unless they mend their ways.
poem
Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes,
Flow gently, I'll sing thee a song in thy praise;
My Mary's asleep by thy murmuring stream,
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.

Thou stock-dove whose echo resounds through the glen,
Ye wild whistling blackbirds in yon thorny den,
Thou green-crested