The Legacy Of Robert Burns

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Robert Burns is one of the world’s most famous poets.

People around the world sing his song “Auld Lang Syne” at Hogmanay/New Year.

Of non-religious figures he comes second only to Queen Victoria and Christopher Columbus in the number of statues dedicated to him worldwide. We have one outside our office!

And – our space-obsessed Tracey will love this – astronaut Nick Patrick packed a book of Burns’ poems for a two-week space mission in 2010.

His poetry has orbited Earth 217 times, making it literally out of this world!

So who was Robert Burns and why do we celebrate him on his birthday each year?

The “Heaven-taught ploughman”

Robert Burns wasn’t the most likely candidate to become the National Bard of Scotland.

He was born into a poor farming family in Alloway in 1759, the oldest of seven children. His parents saw how intelligent he was and gave him the best education they could.

He wrote in Scots dialect, preferring it to English. His influences included his interest in the human condition, his political views and his own life experience.

As a farmer, Robert had a close connection with nature which can be seen in many of his poems such as “To a Mouse” and “To a Mountain Daisy”. He wrote both after ploughing the fields.

Although his poetry was admired in his time – he was dubbed the “Heaven-taught ploughman” – he didn’t make much money from it and remained poor his whole life.

This experience of financial inequality also influenced his political view and writing.

His poem “A Man’s a Man for A’ That” expresses that a person’s value shouldn’t be linked to how much money they have.

He died in 1796 at just 37 years old, but his poetry and memory live on.

Burns Night

Nine of his friends held the first Burns supper on the fifth anniversary of his death in 1801.

Many of the traditions observed at today’s festivities were established that night including the address to the haggis, poetry and song recitals and a toast to Burns himself.

The celebration caught on and, as Scots migrated, the tradition made its way around the world.

Join the celebration

Two centuries later, Burns Night is still going strong and not even lockdown can stop the party! Take a look here if you fancy attending a virtual event.

Or, if you’re looking for a quieter but no less enjoyable night, have a read of Burns’ poetry.

For more from the “Friend” team, read our blog here.

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.