Robert Burns, more familiarly known as Rabbie, was born on 25th January 1759. The day is now marked as Burns Night, on which people all over the world celebrate the life and work of this famous poet and lyricist. Burns wrote in the Scots language, as well as in English, and he is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland. Let’s take a look at some of his most famous works.
Written in 1785, this poem describes Burns’ feelings after accidentally destroying a mouse nest with his plough. Burns empathises with the mouse before pondering mankind’s relationship with nature and the future of humanity. One line of the poem, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men…”, was to become the inspiration for the title of John Steinbeck’s famous 1937 novel Of Mice and Men.
The “hero” of this epic poem from 1790 is Tam, an Ayrshire farmer and frequent drinker. The poem describes the terrifying visions of witches and warlocks that Tam encounters as he stumbles home after a late-night drinking session, and it is full of Burns’ sense of humour as he describes Tam’s drinking buddies and his long-suffering wife, Kate. The poem ends with Tam escaping the witches by riding over the Brig o’Doon, knowing that they would be unable to follow him across the flowing water.
Arguably Burns’ most well-known song, thanks to its popularity at New Years’ celebrations, Auld Lang Syne describes friends reminiscing and raising a toast to old time’s sake. As well as being sung to welcome in the New Year, the tune is also performed at funerals, graduations and to end social events. Despite being attributed to Robert Burns, the song is a collection of traditional Scottish tunes which he collated into one song in 1788 in an attempt to preserve some of the oral culture of his country.
In this poem from 1786, Burns presents the haggis, a popular meal amongst Scotland’s poor rural communities, as an important symbol of Scottish culture and it was this poem that increased the popularity of haggis and helped it become Scotland’s national dish. Both the poem and the dish are important features of Burns Night suppers across the globe.
This poem, which has a very lyrical, song-like metre, is one of the most reproduced love poems in the English language. The poem, or parts of it, have been replicated or borrowed by modern musicians such as Bob Dylan, Eva Cassidy and Carly Simon. It was likely based on a traditional lyric poem and describes an ever-enduring love.
To read these poems, and more by Robert Burns, visit Famous Poems of Robert Burns.