Robert Burns (1759-1796) was a man known by many names, including, but not limited to, Rabbie Burns, the Bard of Ayrshire, and the Ploughman Poet. He was a poet by trade, though his word’s effects were not bound to the literary community. Burns was regarded as the National Poet of Scotland but was celebrated all over the world for his poems and political commentary.
So today, on the 25th of January, we take a few minutes and look at the life and accomplishments of Robert Burns; it is after all his birthday.
Burns was born in the year 1759 in Alloway, Scotland to William and Agnes Brown. Like his father, he was a tenant farmer but, in a surprising turn of events, he escaped the hard work of a farmer through his poetry, though in some ways he didn’t travel far. His poems recorded the features of farm life, Scottish experiences and culture, class distinctions, and transcendent looks at spirituality and religion. All of this cumulated into him being named the official National Poet of Scotland. Burns, not asking for such an honor, simply, though repeatedly, requested to be called a Scots Bard instead.
Even today, fans of Burns work celebrate his life and poetry on his birthday, or Robert Burns Day, in an event aptly named a “Burns Supper” around the world. In Scotland, it is known to be more widely celebrated than even St. Andrew’s Day, their official national day.
The Supper’s format has changed little since it was first introduced in the year 1802. They begin with a welcome to the guests and announcements, followed by the Selkirk Grace. Afterwards, traditionally comes the piping, or bagpipe playing, and the cutting of the Haggis. During the cutting, Burn’s “Address to a Haggis” is read with certain cues telling the speaker when to slice the haggis casing open. At the end of the meal, in the coffee stage, a series of toasts are made in the poet’s honor. During this time, the toast to the immortal memory of Burns is given. This toast is different from host to host, and focuses on some aspect of his life or works and can be as serious as they choose to make it. Then, there is a “Toast to the Lassies,” which is traditionally light hearted, and given by a woman in attendance in response to the “Immortal Memory” toast. Works can be read if anyone in attendance desires as the night starts to wind down.
As closing, the host and all guests in attendance thank Burns one last time, then stand and join hands and sing Auld Lang Syne.
If you wish to throw your own Burns Supper, click here for a Burns Supper Guide!
The love for Burns and his work, as shown above, has stood the test of time and immortalized him over the past 221 years since his death. The Press celebrates the ubiquitous poetry of Burns and the love he accrued for his homeland across the world.