Robert Burns - A Famous Scottish Poet
Robert Burns (1759 - 1796) was born at Alloway in Ayrshire. Robert Burns was the oldest of seven children. His father, a cotter or small farmer, laboured his way to an early grave but never managed to make the farm pay. Burns himself worked on the land until the success of his first book of poems took him to Edinburgh at the end of 1786. The second edition of this book in the following year brought him £500, on the stregth of which he married Jean Armour, one of his many loves and akready the mother of twins by him. After somw unprofitable years as a tenant-farmer in Ellisland, Dumfriesshire, he obtained a job as an excise officer in Dumfries, where he lived for the rest of his brief life.
Burns' first recorded poem was written early in 1783. His earliest work was undistinguished, imatative, and English. He was hampered by having no native Scots idiom at hand to write in. But not for long. His Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, of 1786 were already the work of a master of language and verse-forms. Though a number of his best satires, including Holy Willie's Prayer, were left out for fear of giving offence, the 1786 volume had enough to show his satiracal genius, as in The Twa Dogs and The Holy Fair, while To a Louse was a wonderful expression of his shrewd and humerous appreciation of ordinary life. The poems most highly praised in his day, such as The Cotter's Saturday Night now seem artificial and sentimental, and were in fact written to flatter the taste of the times.
Burns is a truly popular poet and this is largely owing to his songs. Burns either wrote or adapted scores of songs for James Johnson's Scots Musical Museum (1787 - 1803) and for George Thomson's Scottish Airs with Poetry, and the last years of his life were completely taken up with this task. The only late poem in anything like his old style was Tam o'Shanter.
Burns was a born song-writer, being himself so close to the old folk traditions. Among his songs were 'Ye Banks and Braes o' Bonnie Doon' , ' Charlie he's my Darling', 'My Love is like a Red, Red Rose', 'Scots Wha Hae', 'John Anderson, my Jo', and 'Auld Lang Syne'. Some of these songs he patched up from old fragments, others were his own work, but all had that passionate simplicity that was his greatness. Only Robert Burns could have poured in new wine without bursting the old bottles, and only he could have made new songs that were part of the folk tradition as soon as they were written. The character of Robert Burns was like his poems, straightforward, amusing and friendly, quick in observation, shrewd in judgement, and lusty in love.