Burns Night I Oxford Open Learning

Burns Night

Burns Night


Burns Night is tonight. But what exactly is it? And what has it got to do with English? Read on to find out.

Robert Burns was writing way back in the late 1700s. Many people now consider him to be Scotland’s national poet. Even though he didn’t aim for this in his lifetime, he advocated many things about Scottish life – culture, lifestyle, work, and so on – so even today, in 2022, he is still thought of as a key representative of Scotland’s literary heritage.

Robbie Burns, as he is sometimes referred to, promoted different features of Scottish life – and often in a light, appealing style, one of the reasons people still enjoy his work today. To celebrate his birthday, 25th January, people around the world enjoy haggis, neeps, (turnips), and tatties (potatoes). Some people love it; others don’t relish the idea of what ‘haggis’ contains, although if you are a bit squeamish, you can get delicious vegetarian ones nowadays!

Burns Night Classics

Lots of Burns Night celebrations have music and recitals of songs, including Burns’ poetry. You will probably know ‘Auld Lang Syne’, the famous ‘seeing-the-New-Year-in’ song. You might have heard of ‘My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose’, too, a much more romantic poem. But it’s ‘Address to a Haggis’ which is particularly important at this time of year, and here is the first verse:

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 o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.

Try reading it out loud – it’s quite tricky! If you want to read along, or even listen to it, there are lots of links online.

Next Course

It’s not just Burns Night that has famous poetry associated with it. Think about Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day, coming up in February. If you love flipping pancakes and savouring a plateful for your dinner, you might enjoy Christina Rossetti’s poem ‘Mix a Pancake’ written way back in the 1800s. It’s a bit easier to understand than Burns’ poetry:

Stir a pancake,
Pop it in the pan;
Fry the pancake,
Toss the pancake—
Catch it if you can.

The list goes on: Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas. If you like marking events at different times of the year, poetry is a great way of learning about these times – so spend some time researching and have fun!

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