Robert Burns is a national icon and beloved Scottish hero, but do you know why?
Poetry is far from dead, and so is Scottish tradition, especially when it comes to this poet who forever changed nations’, ways of thinking. Once the magical Christmas dust has settled, and the New Year’s celebratory confetti has finally fallen to rest, January doesn’t stop there. Burns Night, as you perhaps already know, is celebrated in the name of the great poet, Robert Burns, every January.
But who is this Robert Burns, and why is he celebrated more prominently over other influential poets? What are the traditions, you might also ask, of Burns Night? Prepare to be enlightened with words of wisdom and wonder, to show you just why Robert Burns is hailed every year as one of the greatest, most important poets ever to have graced Scotland.
What is Burns Night and how is it celebrated?
Burns Night – or more specifically a Burns Supper – is celebrated every year on the birth date of the great Scottish poet, 25th January. Occasionally also called Robert Burns Day, Burns Night can sometimes occur on any other night of the year, but typically the celebrations are held on or around the 25th January. The strict traditions of Burns Night consist of toasts, recitals of a Burn’s poem, ‘Address To A Haggis’, followed by someone cutting into and serving a haggis with turnips and potatoes, and everyone washing it down with some warming Scotch whiskey.
But who exactly was Robert Burns and why is he celebrated?
Robert Burns (or better known as Rabbie Burns to the Scots) was a Scottish poet and lyricist and is generally regarded as the national poet of Scotland. He famously wrote much of his work in the Scottish language, although his work in modern times has been translated into English for the purpose of accessibility by a wider, more mainstream audience.
Burns is especially admired for his particularly blunt political and civil commentary, and became, after his death, a great source of inspiration to the founders of both liberalism and socialism. But he is also widely recognized as a pioneer of the Romantic Movement in poetry, writing in the same era as other founding Romantic poets. In fact, Burns influenced the likes of William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Percy Bysshe Shelley greatly. In the early twentieth century, Burns had a particularly strong influence on writer Hugh MacDiarmid.
Burns was born on 25th January 1759, near Ayr, in Alloway, and was the eldest of seven children. His father, a farmer, had built the house Robert was born in, and this house is now officially the Burns Cottage Museum. The Burns’ lived here until Easter 1766 when a seven-year-old Robert Burns moved with his family to a 70-acre farm, Mount Oliphant.
He began writing in approximately 1784 when he was around 25 years old. He was only an occasional poet at this early stage, more often turning his hand to verse in which he would express his emotions of love and friendship, but also amusement and his ironic contemplation of the social scene. He started gaining recognition as a poet, however, approximately a couple of years later, and his life thus soon became rich with wine, women and song, gaining wider fame all over Scotland.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, the celebration of his work became almost a national charismatic cult and has since held prominent influence over his fellow Scots and Scottish literature itself. In 2009 in a TV vote on who is the greatest ever Scot, the public voted for Robert Burns.
Burns is perhaps best known for his poem come song ‘Auld Lang Syne’, which is often sung at Hogmanay (the last day of the year). Other poems and songs of Burns that remain well known across the world today include ‘A Red, Red Rose’, ‘A Man’s a Man for A’ That’, ‘To a Louse’, ‘To a Mouse’, ‘The Battle of Sherramuir’, ‘Tam-o’-shanter’, and ‘Ae Fond Kiss.’
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