Widely accepted as the pioneer of Romantic movement, Robert Burns was not only inspirational and popular among the common folks of Scotland during his lifetime but his legacy continues until this day and is spread across the world.
Early Life of Burns
Born on 25th January 1759, Robert Burns is remembered by a variety of names and titles such as Robbie Burns, the Bard of Ayrshire or the Ploughman Poet. He was the eldest of William and Agnes Burnes’ seven children.
Robert Burns’ father was a tenant farmer who tried to educate his children but due to financial difficulties, Robert Burns had to quit school early on but was nonetheless encouraged by his father to continue studying at home. Burns’ early life was spent in labour and toil as he worked along with his father on leased farmland.
It is said to have taken a visible toll on him. He led a very interesting life and had his share of affairs with multiple women and sired a number of illegitimate children. However, he married Jean Armour in 1788 with whom he already had twins in 1786 but hadn’t been able to marry her because of her father’s protests.
Well known for collecting Scottish poems and revising or adapting them to create fine songs that are enjoyed even today across the world, his cultural connection to Scotland is remarkable and is appreciated by everyone.
His most cherished works include ‘Auld Lang Syne’, which is played on the last day of the year in Scotland, also called as the Hogmanay, ‘Tam O’ Shanter’, which can be accepted as the unofficial National anthem of Scotland, ‘To a Mouse’, and ‘ A Man’s a Man for A’ That’, although many more poems of his are popular in Scotland till date.
‘ Tam O’ Shanter’ is probably his best work filled with humour just as ‘Holy Willie’s Prayer’ and ‘The Holy Fair’ are best of his satirical works. His popularity and reach were widespread as he wrote not only in Scottish but also in Standard English or a Scottish English dialect and it earned him the title of the typical Scot by some people.
During the 19th-20th century, the celebration of his life and his work had emerged almost like a cult. Even today, his birthday,25th of January is viewed as a very important day by people across the world and it is celebrated as the Burns Night or the Burns Supper in remembrance of his life and work.
He became the inspiration to founders of both liberalism and Socialism as his writings were mostly inclusive of religiousness, morality, poverty, society and various other themes. He was greatly interested in the French Revolution in his later years of life and his opinions about the same turned out to be controversial at the time.
What’s really amusing about the life of Robert Burns is that he probably took inspiration for most of his works from what he saw in and around his own personal life; his love life, poverty, humanity’s unequal condition, honesty, hard work, issue of social class difference and cultural issues.
If on a quiet evening, ‘Auld Lang Syne’ is played, then one can’t fail to see the beauty in the lines “ We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet, For auld lang syne”. It’s the simplicity and the relatable lyrics that behold the listener. His humility is proved by the fact that a number of his writings had been written by him for free.
However, he seems to have been agitated by the sufferings of the poor and the undeniable differentiation of classes in the society and he has expressed the same in his writings. Already involved in drinking and women, in 1791, it is said that when he became a permanent exciseman, the stable income encouraged his drinking habits and he died in 1796 because of rheumatic fever as he slept off on a footpath on a rainy night after drinking too much.
Despite his short life of just 37 years, he contributed immensely to literature and philosophy through his life’s work. Although he was born in a poor, common family, his knowledge about literature and the technicalities of literary writing was unusually immense. And this created among the common people a sense of relatability as people felt that, if he could earn so much of fame and could become so popular during his lifetime and could be remembered amongst the greatest personalities posthumously too, then anyone could.
He, therefore, came to be seen as an idol or a symbol of potential by the Scots and is celebrated by formal groups and clubs in the form of Burns Supper.
Despite being criticised for his use of general language for writing poetry, his approach to the French Revolution and his way with women and drinks by many critics, Robert Burns is commonly recognized and remembered with love and affection throughout Scotland for his great writings that are amusing as well as filled with thought-provoking themes, and he is hence acclaimed as the National Poet of Scotland.