Robert Burns

Robert Burns’s Life

A famous Scottish lyricist and poet, and celebrated as the Scottish National Poet, Robert Burns was born on January 25, 1759 in Alloway, Scotland. Burns was the eldest of seven children. His father, William Burnes, was a self-educated farmer from Dunnottar, and his mother, Agnes Broun, was the daughter of a tenant farmer from Ayrshire.

Burns spent his early days in his father’s cottage until 1766, when William sold that cottage to ward off poverty and moved the family to a farm named Mount Oliphant. Due to acute financial constraints, young Burns could hardly get a respectable regular schooling. His father himself taught his children writing, reading, arithmetic, history, and geography. John Murdoch, a mentor who opened a school in Allowy, also taught Burns and his brother French, mathematics, and Latin from 1765 to 1768. After teaching his children at home, William sent Burns to Dalrymple Parish School for the summer of 1772 before his necessary return to help with the harvest.

Burns then went to live with Murdoch and studied grammar, Latin and French until 1773. Upon turning fifteen, Burns worked at Mount Oliphant as a laborer. After harvesting, Burns was sent to Kirkoswald, and he finished his education in 1775 with the help of a tutor there. At Kirkoswald Burns met a girl named Peggy Thomson, for whom he wrote two songs.

Despite his positive nature, William Burnes was unfortunate and consistently moved from one farm to another with his family, without any improvement in his circumstances. William managed, however, to get his large family away from the bad conditions at Mount Oliphant and moved them to a farm near Tarbolton, where they lived until William Burnes’s death in 1784.

The Burns family got enmeshed in the Tarbolton community. Robert and Gilbert joined a dancing school in 1779, and the following year they laid the foundation of Tarbolton Bachelor’s Club. Robert continued writing songs and poems during this time. Then, in 1786, when John Wilson published a collection of Burns’s works called “Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect,” which was known as Kilmarnock volume. This collection contained some of his best writings like “Address to the Deil,” “The Twa Dogs,” and many others. This work earned him immediate success, and he became a popular poet countrywide.

Burns also made association with a group of girls known as The Belles of Mauchline around this time. One of those girls was Jean Armour, with whom Burns fell profoundly in love. Initially, her father rejected their relationship, but eventually they married in 1788, and had nine children. Despite their marriage, Burns remained involved in love affairs with other women. His worldly prospects were getting better day by day, but Burns became soured and alienated with his best friends, because he had sympathies for French Revolutionaries, which they spurned. He came under the spotlight because of his political views that turned his employers against him as well as raised questions against his loyalty to the Crown.

His health started deteriorating, which ultimately led to intense fits of depression. These prolonged tense circumstances led to rheumatic conditions and ultimately to his death on July 21, 1796.

Robert Burns’s Works

Burns penned his first poem O, Once I Lov’d A Bonnie Lass” in 1774. John Wilson later published his poetry volume “Kilmarnock Volume” in 1786, which became a massive hit across the country. He dedicated some poems such as The Highland Lassie O,” “To Mary in Heaven,” and “Highland Mary” to his beloved Mary Campbell.

Robert Burns’s Style and Popular Poems

Burns’s writing style is spontaneous, direct, and sincere, marked with gentle intensity with slight touches of humor and satire. Most of his poems drew a considerable amount of influence from English Literature and the Bible, as well as the Scottish English dialect. He used popular themes of love, gender roles, sexuality, poverty, radicalism, and republicanism in his poems. His poems also reflect emotional ups and downs, which could suggest that Burns himself suffered from severe depression throughout his life. His popular poems include “A Winter Night,” “A Red, Red Rose,” “Address to the Deil,” “To a Mouse,” “To a Louse,” “A Bottle and Kiss,” and “Halloween.”

More about Him

Many famous poets were heavily influenced by Robert Burns including William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and S.T. Coleridge. In addition, Burns also influenced many literary figures in Canada, the United States, and Russia, and continues to exert his influence around the world where English poetry is read and taught.