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Robert Burns:
Scotland's National Poet

Robert Burns was born in Alloway, South Ayrshire, Scotland on January 25, 1759. He is the son of Williams Burns, a farmer, who also served as his teacher in basic school subjects during Robert’s youth. His father also instructed him in religion.

Familiarity with the Bible and a fascination with English literature would have a tremendous affect on his writings. At the age of four, he and his brother received tutoring in Latin, French, and math from an “adventure school” in Alloway. This instruction could do nothing to aid his family, however, and their quality of life was continuously poor and full of manual labor.

Hoping for a change, Robert Burns moved to Irvine at the age of twenty two in order to find more lucrative work, but nothing came of the trip. He began to write two years later, first using local dialects, but his hobby could do nothing to save the family. William Burns died in 1784, leaving Robert and his brother Gilbert to take care of the farm. They had little success at that endeavor and moved to Mossgiel.

Seeking popularity, Burns joined the Freemasons in 1781, a connection which brought him many admirers. In 1784, at a meeting of his lodge, he was given the title Depute Master. This new power allowed him to move lodge meetings closer to his farm where he could better keep watch over them. He was also furnished with a means to publish his works, and a year after his appointment he released his first "Kilmarnock Edition" of poems. These writings, coupled with his talent for running lodge affairs, brought him further success with the Masons and in 1787 he was made Royal Arch Mason. The Masons were a major factor in his rise from obscurity and his participation allowed him to make the connections he needed to energize his career.

Even before this final appointment, Robert Burns’ success as a poet had dwarfed his feeble attempt at being a farmer and his professional life took a decisive turn. He published another volume of his works, Poems, Chiefly In The Scottish Dialect, in June of 1786. The success of the first edition led to the want of a reprinting and Burns was asked to come to Edinburgh to superintend its issuing. While there, he made a number of connections with well-respected aristocrats and cultivated what would become enduring friendships.

Burns’ success earned him four hundred dollars, a respectable sum of money in 1786. He also contributed heavily to the Scottish tradition of song in those years, or more specifically, to the Scots Musical Museum. To its three volume set he added about 240 songs and assisted in their editing.

After these successes, Burns returned to the town of his birth to try his hand at married life. With his new wife and old friend, Jean Armour, he moved to the farm of Ellisland to try his hand once more at farming. As a precaution, he had taken lessons as an exciseman, which turned out to be more suitable for him.

In 1789, Robert Burns was appointed to the Customs and Excise Office and two years later he abandoned farming altogether. His writings were still in demand as he received offers for positions on the staff of the Star newspaper in London and governmental opportunities as the Chair of Agriculture. He continued to contribute songs to such compilations as The Melodies Of Scotland and A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs For The Voice.

These works have made him highly respected as a lyric poet, but his style of satiric writing made him controversial. His views ostracized him from his friends and his health began to degenerate. He died on July 21, 1796, leaving a widow and children. They were well cared for, however, as all of Scotland sent money to the family to aid them.

This support in the face of tragedy proves how well respected Robert Burns was in Scotland, and how intimately he was involved in the affairs of the country. He is widely regarded as its national poet and he wrote most of his works in a Scottish language or with a Scots English dialect. His ability to appeal to the political views of the country allowed him to connect with its people in a patriotic and romantic way. A national Burns Night is held in Scotland and in other places throughout the world every year on January 25.

The works of and by Robert Burns, the national poet of Scotland, are too numerous to mention. Instead, World Class Poetry recommends the following works by and about Robert Burns:

The Complete Poems And Songs Of Robert Burns
Robert Burns - Live (DVD)
The Poems and Songs of Robert Burns (Kindle Edition)

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