Robert Burns (1759 - 1796)
Robert Burns was born at Alloway, near Ayr, on January 25, 1759. His father William was a gardener, and though extremely poor, attempted to give his children a fair education. Robert, who was the eldest, went to school for three years in a neighboring village, and later, for shorter periods, to three other schools in the vicinity. But it was to his father and to his own reading that he owed the more important part of his education.
Burns worked as a farm labourer, and it was while thus occupied that he met his first love, Nelly Kirkpatrick. She inspired him to try his hand at poetry, a song entitled "O, once I lov'd a bonnie lass", set to the tune of a traditional reel. He worked at a succession of labouring jobs, and began writing poetry regularly. When his father died in 1784, Burns and his brother Gilbert rented a farm near Mauchline.
Burns spread his affections freely, and the next decade saw 8 illegitimate children born to him through 5 different women. One of these, Jean Armour, became Mrs. Burns in 1788.
The first published work of poetry by Robert Burns was "Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect" which saw the light of day on 31 July 1786. This collection of verse contained many of Burn's best works, including "To a Mouse", and "The Holy Fair".
The success of the volume convinced Burns to abandon plans to emigrate to Jamaica. Buoyed by his growing reputation as an unschooled "ploughman poet", Burns moved to Edinburgh and became part of the thriving cultural scene there.
He was unable to find a patron to support his writing, but publisher James Johnson gave him work editing a collection of Scottish folk songs. This work, titled "The Scots Musical Museum", was published in 5 volumes over sixteen years. Burns himself contributed over 150 songs, including "Auld Lang Syne", a reworking of an earlier folk song of unknown origin.
Burns and his wife Jean moved to Mauchline, where in 1790 he produced "Tam o' Shanter", which was first published merely as an accompaniment to an illustration of Alloway Kirk, in a volume of "Antiquities of Scotland". The growing Burns family moved again, this time to Dumfries.
Burns contributed 114 songs to "A Select Collection Of Scottish Airs" by George Thomson, but he received very little payment for his efforts. In 1795, Burns was inspired by the events of the French Revolution to write "For a' that and a' that", his cry for human equality.
One year later, on July 21, 1796, Burns was dead of rheumatic fever. He was buried in the churchyard of St. Michael's in Dumfries, as his wife Jean was giving birth to their ninth child.
Robert Burns gained more fame after his death than he ever did during his lifetime. Many of his songs and poems have become international favourites - even among those who find his use of Scottish lowland dialect difficult to decipher.
A Red, Red Rose
O my Luve's like a red, red rose
That's newly sprung in June;
O my Luve's like the melodie
That's sweetly played in tune.
As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry:
Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun;
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run.
And fare thee weel, my only Luve,
And fare thee weel awhile!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho' it ware ten thousand mile.
Lines to an Old Sweetheart
ONCE fondly lov’d, and still remember’d dear,
Sweet early object of my youthful vows,
Accept this mark of friendship, warm, sincere,
Friendship! ’tis all cold duty now allows.
And when you read the simple artless rhymes,
One friendly sigh for him—he asks no more,
Who, distant, burns in flaming torrid climes,
Or haply lies beneath th’ Atlantic roar.
The Song of Death
FAREWELL, thou fair day, thou green earth, and ye skies,
Now gay with the broad setting sun;
Farewell, loves and friendships, ye dear tender ties,
Our race of existence is run!
Thou grim King of Terrors; thou Life’s gloomy foe!
Go, frighten the coward and slave;
Go, teach them to tremble, fell tyrant! but know
No terrors hast thou to the brave!
Thou strik’st the dull peasant—he sinks in the dark,
Nor saves e’en the wreck of a name;
Thou strik’st the young hero—a glorious mark;
He falls in the blaze of his fame!
In the field of proud honour—our swords in our hands,
Our King and our country to save;
While victory shines on Life’s last ebbing sands,—
O! who would not die with the brave!
The Wounded Hare
INHUMAN man! curse on thy barb’rous art,
And blasted be thy murder-aiming eye;
May never pity soothe thee with a sigh,
Nor ever pleasure glad thy cruel heart!
Go live, poor wand’rer of the wood and field!
The bitter little that of life remains:
No more the thickening brakes and verdant plains
To thee a home, or food, or pastime yield.
Seek, mangled wretch, some place of wonted rest,
No more of rest, but now thy dying bed!
The sheltering rushes whistling o’er thy head,
The cold earth with thy bloody bosom prest.
Perhaps a mother’s anguish adds its woe;
The playful pair crowd fondly by thy side;
Ah! helpless nurslings, who will now provide
That life a mother only can bestow!
Oft as by winding Nith I, musing, wait
The sober eve, or hail the cheerful dawn,
I’ll miss thee sporting o’er the dewy lawn,
And curse the ruffian’s aim, and mourn thy hapless fate.