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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)

[O were my love yon Lilac fair]

Robert Burns, 1759 - 1796
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 yon red rose,  
  That grows upon the castle wa';    
And I myself a drap o' dew,  
  Into her bonie breast to fa'!
O there, beyond expression blest,  
  I'd feast on beauty a' the night;
Seal'd on her silk-saft faulds to rest,
  Till fley'd awa by Phoebus' light!

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

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,

poem
Anna, thy charms my bosom fire,  
  And waste my soul with care;  
But ah! how bootless to admire,  
  When fated to despair!  
  
Yet in thy presence, lovely Fair,
  To hope may be forgiven;  
For sure 'twere impious to despair  
  So much in sight of heaven. 
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