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Robert Burns (1759-1796)
At a time when the glories of English literature were being made known to a wide audience in Europe, due to its new direction in which the lives of common folk were being explored and praised, the name of Robert Burns stands out. Burns was above all the poet of rural, daily life. Not only that, but his championing of the Scottish vernacular made that language an acceptable vehicle in which to produce world class literature. He used the rhythm and sounds of his native Scots to give full meaning to his work as well as liveliness and spirit. In addition, the patriotism expressed in many of his works did much to keep alive the spirit of an independent-minded Scotland, and the present-day ceremonies of toasting the haggis carried out world-wide by Scots loyal to their native country owes everything to one of his poems.

Born at Alloway, Ayrshire, Burns was heavily influenced by Blind Harry's Wallace and the works of Allan Ramsay and Robert Fergusson. His first collection of verses was published in 1786: Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, in which his ode "To a Mouse" first appeared. Its success made him change his mind about leaving his poor farm near Mauchline and t taking his family to emigrate to Jamaica. It was a book that brought him instant fame from a literature-starved public; the era of the common man was at hand (just think what was happening in the American colonies and in France at the same time).

In his private life, Burns gave us a foretaste of what many believe to be the Celtic temperament. His purported dissoluteness and public drunkenness set a pattern only too well emulated in this century by Irish poet Brendan Behan and Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Apart from that, however, Burns left a lasting imprint on the direction that poetry was to take, especially in its rebellion against the accepted social order of the day. His poetry shows his belief in the natural goodness of man; it praises freedom for all men.

From a poor farm, Burns was generally thought to have accomplished his art "without that sufficiency of learning which was hitherto thought necessary" (though, to be honest, he was much wider read than he and others were willing to give him credit for). Burns' poems showed the influence of hard work on the farm, a love of books and his admiration of his Scottish predecessors.

Selected poems and a glossary of Scottish terms
Robert Burns International Festival
Robert Burns Selected Poems
Robert Burns Sons of Ayrshire logo
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