Robert Burns: Scotland's Own Poet

The 25th of January 1759 occasioned Scotland's most famous birthday, when, in a blast of snow and winter winds, Robert Burns was born in a humble cottage in Alloway. That birthday is still celebrated in Scotland, and by Scots and poetry lovers around the world.


The Scottish Society of Fredericksburg has hosted a memorial Robert Burns Banquet every winter for many years. The Society, which is dedicated to the promotion and preservation of Scottish history, heritage and culture, meets at 7:30 PM on the third Monday of each month, at St. George's Episcopal Church, 905 Princess Anne Street.

1. The Works of Robert Burns
2. The Man Himself
3. Robert Burns Banquets
4. Auld Scots Recipes!

1. The Works of Robert Burns

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days o' lang syne?
--- From Burns' "Auld Lang Syne"

Robert Burns' poetry and songs revolve around Scottish country and town life, the life he knew. He wrote satires about the "high and mighty", particularly the self-righteous and the tyranny of the kirk (Address to the Unco Guid). He composed beautiful love poems (Bonie Jean), some tender, some sassy, about the many women he loved. He wrote with affection, respect and often high humor (Tam o' Shanter) about simple folk and their lives. He had a heart for the wee-est of creatures (To a Mouse, To a Louse) - and could compose at the drop of a hat.Chiefly, he did immeasurable service to Scotland by reviving and rewriting dozens upon dozens of Scottish folk songs - taking the old tunes as he had learnt them, drawing upon memory for a glimpse of what they'd been about, taking perhaps a phrase or stanza, and then rewriting the songs with his own lyrics - an incredible achievement which revitalized Scottish culture and pride.

On the Shelf

The poems of the Bard of Scotland may be found in any good anthology of English verse. Some of these are:

The New Oxford Book of English Verse

The Oxford Book of Comic Verse

The Norton Anthology of English Literature (Vol. 2)

You may click on any of these titles to go to our catalog entry to place a reserve if you wish.

On the Internet

A Burns Songbook
http://www.milwburnsclub.org/songs.htm
Sound and sheet music!

The Complete Works of Robert Burns On Line
http://www.robertburns.org/works/
A stupendous resource -- everything Burns wrote, available to all.

Critical Analysis of Burns Poems
http://www.robertburns.plus.com/Analysis.htm
An excellent resource, with insights into many of his works.

Familiar Burns Quotations
http://www.bartleby.com/100/315.html
From Bartleby.com's Great Books Online

The Vocabulary of Robert Burns
http://members.shaw.ca/micheil/burns/burns.htm
Are you intimidated by all those Scots words? Translate them here!

2. The Man Himself

From scenes like these old Scotia's grandeur springs,
That makes her loved at home, revered abroad:
Princes and lords are but the breath of kings,
An honest man's the noblest work of God.
--- From Burn's "The Cotter's Saturday Night"

Robert Burns was born the son of a farmer in 1759 at Alloway, in southern Scotland. Reared on a diet of austerity and Calvinistic rectitude, Robert received no formal education. He trained as a flax dresser initially, taking over the family farm with his brother on his father's death. Following a number of passionate love affairs, he married Jean Armstrong who had borne him a child several years earlier, and farmed near Dumfries -- apparently unsuccessfully, as he had to work simultaneously as an excise officer to supplement his income.

In spite of having two jobs, he composed numerous songs and poems, many in Lowland Scottish vernacular which has to some extent limited his universal appeal. This is not true of his major works, however, and it is his earthly language, combined with a heartfelt blend of fun and nostalgia, which give his poetry a unique freshness and originality. In Scotland, he is a cult figure as a rustic poet and the pride of his nation with his own celebratory night. His output during his short and hectic life was truly prolific, and his works include many classic songs and poems which have become household names.

He died at the early age of 37 in 1796.

On the Shelf

Robert Burns: An Illustrated Biography by Ian Grimble.
A wonderfully readable, short (125 pages) life of the poet, with many illustrations.

Robert Burns by John Campbell Shairp.
Contents: Youth in Ayrshire, First Winter in Edinburgh, Border and Highland Tours, Second Winter in Edinburgh, Life at Ellisland, Migration to Dumfries, Last Years, Character, Poems, Songs, Index.

"Robert Burns," in Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. 3
A standard reference source.

On the Internet

The Burns National Heritage Park, Alloway, Scotland
http://www.burnsheritagepark.com/
Now fully restored to its original state, Burns' birthplace cottage is at the heart of the Burns National Heritage Park. Walk in the footsteps of Tam O'Shanter in "Alloway's auld haunted kirk," and across the auld Brig O'Doon….

Ellisland Farm: the Home of Robert Burns, Dumfries, Scotland
http://www.ellislandfarm.co.uk/
Some of Robert Burns' best-loved nature poems were inspired by the tranquil setting of Ellisland Farm. Ellisland is now a popular museum and visitor center.

Essays on Robert Burns
http://www.robertburns.plus.com/Essays.htm
Thought provoking essays on the bard, by David Sibbald.

The Life and Times of Robbie Burns
http://www.robertburns.plus.com/Chronology.htm
A substantial chronology, from David Sibbald, plus "Stories Behind the Songs."

Online Databases from the Central Rappahannock Regional Library
http://www.librarypoint.org/articles_databases
Use your CRRL library card to access literary and biographical databases from home, work, or school.

Robert Burns' Family History
http://www.burness.ca/burns.html
John Burness' remarkable research -- an invaluable resource for anyone looking into his own family history.

Robert Burns and Cultural Authority edited by Robert Crawford.
http://www.netlibrary.com/urlapi.asp?action=summary&v=1&bookid=9587
An electronic book accessible through the World Wide Web to CRRL card holders. Come in to the library to set up your free NetLibrary account.

Robert Burns, Freemason
http://stjohnsboston1733.org/Robert_Burns_The_Freemason.pdf
Scotland's most famous poet is also Scotland's most famous Freemason.