Robert Burns (1759-1796) was and continues to be Scotland’s best-loved poet. From the holiday staple “Auld Lang Syne” to the patriotic cry of “Scots Wha Hae,” his words evoke images of rolling highlands and ancient castles in times lost in the past.
Robert Burns’s poems and songs — known as “airs” — have endured as national treasures of Scotland. Burns wrote in a Scots dialect of English during a time when Scotland was under English rule. This use of language not only gives his words a sense of time and place but solidifies them as a blatant reminder that the words were that of a Scotsman.
“For auld lang syne, my dear,/ For auld lang syne,/ We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet/ For auld lang syne!” - “Auld Lang Syne”
“Should auld acquaintance be forgot,/ And never brought to min'?/ Should auld acquaintance be forgot,/ And days o' auld lang syne?” - “Auld Lang Syne”
“Scots, wha hae wi Wallace bled/ Scots, wham Bruce has aften led/ Welcome to your gory bed/ Or to victorie!” - “Scots Wha Hae”
“Lay the proud usurpers low!/ Tyrants fall in every foe!/ Liberty's in every blow—/ Let us do or die!” - “Scots Wha Hae”
“Some fell for wrang, and some for right;/ But mony bade the world gude-night;/ Then ye may tell, how pell and mell,/ By red claymores, and muskets knell,/ Wi' dying yell, the Tories fell,/ And Whigs to hell did flee, man.” - “The Battle of Sherramuir”
“Now, wha this tale o' truth shall read,/ Ilk man and mother's son, take heed,/ Whene'er to drink you are inclin'd,/ Or cutty-sarks run in your mind,/ Think, ye may buy the joys o'er dear,/ Remember Tam o' Shanter's mear.” - “Tam O’Shanter”
Like any poet, Burns liked to write about the lasses. Works like “Ae Fond Kiss” and “A Red, Red Rose” endure as favorite love songs that are still widely performed today.
“Fare thee weel, thou first and fairest!/ Fare thee weel, thou best and dearest!/ Thine be ilka joy and treasure,/ Peace. enjoyment, love, and pleasure!/ Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;/ Ae fareweel, alas, forever!/ Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,/ Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee!” - “Ae Fond Kiss”
“So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,/ So deep in luve am I;/ And I will luve thee still, my dear,/ Till a’ the seas gang dry.” - “A Red, Red Rose”
“While Europe's eye is fix'd on mighty things,/ The fate of empires and the fall of kings;/ While quacks of State must each produce his plan,/ And even children lisp the Rights of Man;/ Amid this mighty fuss just let me mention,/ The Rights of Woman merit some attention.” - “The Rights of Woman”
“But truce with kings, and truce with constitutions,/ With bloody armaments and revolutions;/ Let Majesty your first attention summon,/ Ah! ca ira! The Majesty Of Woman!” - “The Rights of Woman”
“The golden Hours on angel wings/ Flew o'er me and my Dearie;/ For dear to me as light and life/ Was my sweet Highland Mary.” - “Highland Mary”
With its sprawling landscapes and climbing cascades, Scotland has no shortage of inspiration for poems about nature. Robert Burns frequently paid tribute to the beauty of his homeland with his words.
“Beauty's of a fading nature/ Has a season and is gone!” - “Will Ye Go and Marry Katie?”
“Nature's law,/ That man was made to mourn.” - “Man Was Made to Mourn”
“Man's inhumanity to man/ Makes countless thousands mourn./ Man was made to Mourn.” - “Man was Made to Mourn”
“Gie me ae spark o' Nature's fire,/ That's a' the learning I desire.” - “First Epistle to J. Lapraik”
“The social, friendly, honest man,/ Whate'er he be,/ 'Tis he fulfills great Nature's plan,/ And none but he!” -”Second Epistle to J. Lapraik”
“O, wad some Power the giftie gie us/ To see oursels as others see us!/ It wad frae monie a blunder free us.” - “To a Louse”
“Auld Nature swears, the lovely dears/ Her noblest work she classes, O:/ Her prentice han' she tried on man,/ An' then she made the lasses, O.” - “Green Grow the Rashes”
“The voice of Nature loudly cries,/ And many a message from the skies,/ That something in us never dies.” - “Sketch New Year's Day: To Mrs Dunlop”
“When Nature her great masterpiece designed,/ And framed her last, best work, the human mind,/ Her eye intent on all the wondrous plan,/ She formed of various stuff the various Man.” - “Epistle To Robert Graham”
Robert Burns’s works endure in part because they speak to every part of the human experience, in particular the Scottish experience. His influence of Scottish literature and national spirit is second to none.
“Some books are lies frae end to end.” - Death and Dr. Hornbook
“The heart benevolent and kind/ The most resembles God.” - “A Winter Night”
“If naebody care for me,/ I'll care for naebody.” - “I Hae a Wife o' my Ain”
“I'm truly sorry man's dominion/ Has broken Nature's social union.” - “To a Mouse”
“The best laid schemes o' mice and men/ Gang aft a-gley;/ And leave us naught but grief and pain/ For promised joy.” - “To a Mouse”
The 18th century was a revolutionary time in history, and many great minds and words of the time came from the United Kingdom.