Edina! Scotia’s darling seat!
All hail thy palaces and tow’rs;
Where once, beneath a Monarch’s feet,
Sat Legislation’s sovereign pow’rs:
From marking wildly-scatt’red flow’rs,
As on the banks of Ayr I stray’d,
And singing, lone, the ling’ring hours,
I shelter in thy honour’d shade.
– Robert Burns, “Address to Edinburgh”
As an immigrant myself, I know that where one spends one’s formative years can have a great impact on later life. This seems to be the case with Robert Burns, hailed as Scotland’s national poet, and one of the most popular and endearing sons of Scotland both locally and worldwide. Rabbie Burns (1759-1796) wrote poems and songs in the Scots Language, as well as in the Scots dialect and in English. He is generally regarded as a forerunner of the Romantic movement, influencing other great writers including William Wordsworth, Percy Shelley, and Samuel Coleridge. At his home as a child, Burns studied the Bible, great works of English literature, including Shakespeare, and the Scottish Makar tradition. Themes found in Burns’ work include patriotism, republicanism, class inequalities, sexuality, cultural identity, and poverty.
Every January 25th, Scots and Scottish enthusiasts alike gather together all over the world to celebrate Robert Burns on his birthday with a Burns Supper. The event includes a recital of Burns’ poem the “Selkirk Grace” and a piping in of Scotland’s national dish, haggis with a reading of Burns’ poem “Address to a Haggis”.
In Russia, Burns became the people’s poet when the Imperial aristocracy became so out of touch with the ordinary Russian people. The country was the first to honour the poet with a commemorative stamp in 1956. Today, the poetry of Burns is taught alongside Russia’s own literature greats.
We paid a visit to the birthplace and childhood home of Robert Burns, the Burns Cottage, in Alloway. Now a museum run by the National Trust for Scotland, the place where Burns spent his childhood years is an interactive exhibit. As you walk through the home, audio cues start automatically, such as Burns reading as a child and his mother reading to him in the kitchen. The home looks, feels, and sounds like it would have when Burns and his family lived in it. This makes a nice change from the traditional museum exhibit styles. It is a simple and effective way to present Burns’ young life and the inspiration for his later work.
The far-reaching impact of the ploughman poet is hard to underestimate. Chances are that if you look, you’ll find a Burns Supper celebrated in your area of the world. Every New Year’s, as people gather to bring in the new year, renditions of Burns’ song “Auld Lang Syne” can usually be heard. There are statues and monuments of Burns all over the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, England, and the United States, including one in Central Park, New York.
What’s your favourite Burns poem? Leave a comment on this blog and let us know. If you can, include the text of the poem! The complete works of Robert Burns can be found online at Burns Country.