Scotland's national bard was born in 1759 in the village of Alloway just south of Ayr. Born into a farming family, Burns' grew into an accomplished poet and songwriter gaining popularity with Scotland's literary elite despite his work often attacking the establishment – this was time of the great revolutions in America and France – and championing of the common man. Having failed in farming Burns' became an exciseman in Dumfries where he died aged 37 in 1796.
Despite his tragic demise at a young age of only 37, Robert Burns' collection of poetry and songs has elevated him to the position of being Scotland's national bard. His work had the ability to convey the imagery of liberty and independence for both the common man as well as for the Scots themselves that made Burns a literary hero – a bard.
Born January 25, 1759 the son of a tenant-farming family, Robert Burns was educated well and was well read. During his teenage years and through early manhood, Burns worked on farms and it is during these formative years that he developed some of the passions that remained with him and were expressed through his works. Putting the period into a social context will help to see how some of these passions were fuelled by what Burns could see around him.
This was an age of revolution. The second half of the eighteenth century gave rise to two of the most far-reaching social events in modern history. Firstly, the American revolutions (1775) followed by those in France (1789). The latter part of Burn's life also saw the heralding of the Industrial Revolution and although he died before mass exodus of the countryside to the growing city's factories was some way off, it was imminent. As a counter towards this 'Scottish Enlightenment' movement there was a growth towards romanticising rural life and its communities – the old agrarian Scotland. In deed, Burns' legacy is one of 'ploughman poet' an image that he was happy to develop and portray by turning his work towards attacking the new establishment. His works celebrating the countryside – 'The Cotter's Saturday Night' and 'The Twa Dugs' where he took the side of tenant farmers, are testament to this.
There were other strong forces to which Burns also turned his attention. Firstly, the kirk, or church; the church remained a strong force in Scottish society and Burns' verse was most humorous when he was attacking it and its ministers. He aimed his commentary particularly at the Calvinist preachers with their 'ire and brimstone' approach to preaching. This had the affect however of galvanising them against him and quickly he became the object of criticism in their sermons which was responded to by Burns with even more savage verses. 'Holy Willie's Prayer' is the best example of this.
As we have already seen, Burns – and the Scots of his time we waking up to the realisation that their simply agrarian lifestyle was passing and had seen the crushing of the Jocobite Rebellion and the tragedy in the Highlands. Burns and his contemporaries raised the public consciousness of the Jocobites and Highland traditions and there grew a perpetuating hunger for tales of the adventures of the rebels and other characters associated with these passing times. The song 'Charlie, He's My Darling' is about Bonny Prince Charlie (the Young Pretender) and would be the most well remembered.
Although Burn's had fame he had little fortune to go with it and it was the need to support his wife and family that forced him to become an excise officer – part of the establishment he had fervently attacked -- a position he held until his death. This contrary stance was not something lost on Burns and during this time he wrote the poem 'The De'ils Awa' Wi' The Exciseman'.
Burns' lasting legacy is that of champion to the common man and champion to Scotland. 'Auld Lang Syne' is an anthem to brotherhood and although it is strongly associated with ushering in a New Year it has a wider context. His reputation, as the meaning of his poetry and other works, is truly international and will be celebrated globally this January 25th at Burns Night celebrations anywhere there is an ex-pats Scottish presence.
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About the Author: Keith Sinclair has over 35 years experience in Business and in addition to being a part-time University lecturer is CEO of Cavalcade Grp. Cavalcade trades in the Party Sector and its Karnival-House division is one of the UK's leading Fancy Dress internet retailers - visit; http://www.karnival-house.co.uk.html