Life and Death of Nature’s Poet Robert Burns

Robert Burns, was born into farming on January 25th, 1759 in Ayrshire. He was to become Scotland’s most celebrated writer.

Living a short yet complex life, Robert Burns called various parts of Scotland his home. He grew up on a farm in Alloway with his father from Kincardineshire, mother from Culzean and six siblings.

Working as a labourer in the fields Robert also showed an interest in literature during his lessons with the family tutor. He had talent from a young age and was able to use the Scots and English languages with ease, something that shows in much of his work as he glides between the two.

Robert is said to have written his first song at the age of 15, O Once I Lov’d a Bonie Lass was about his first love. He would take his inspiration over the years from the world around him, paying close attention to detail, showing love, empathy and sometimes, a political stand.

People and nature were strong muses for Robert Burns.

His first book was printed in Kilmarnock. Named Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect it contained one of his most famous poems To A Mouse. Robert had written the poem after turning over a mouse nest whilst ploughing a field. He spoke to the mouse, offering sympathy for the loss of her home and lack of food needed for her survival and to keep warm.

The success of the book took Robert to Edinburgh, but he never stayed in one place for too long.

He soon went to live in Dumfries, where he also worked as an excise man for the government, travelling by horse back to various locations. He was living and working during this time on Ellisland farm, whilst still having the time to write.

Whilst living on Ellisland Farm, surrounded by fields, crops and the river Nith, some of Robert’s most famous work was written. He would spend a lot of time outdoors but would also have a view across the river and both sides of the banks from his desk in the farmhouse.

The Wounded Hare was written whilst living on Ellisland Farm after Robert saw a hare limp by him with a shot wound.

Throughout his life, Robert loved many women. Although Jean Armour is the one most closely associated with Robert there were at least five women that birthed a total of 12 of his children. As with nature, women inspired him.

Jean Armour, Dumfries

Not all his children survived, the death of his father had been sudden, some of the women he loved passed away and Robert himself died at the age of just 37, whilst living in the town of Dumfries. His last known child was born on the day of his funeral.

Buried in a mausoleum of Dumfries, Robert Burns may have been a poet, songwriter, lover of women and of nature during the 18th century, but he still lives on in the hearts of the Scottish people and readers of his work worldwide.  

Also known as Rabbie Burns or simply the bard, people everywhere join the Scots in celebrating his life and remembering his work, especially on his birthday, Burns Night. A traditional supper of haggis, neeps and tatties is eaten alongside a dram or two of Scotch whisky whilst his familiar poems and songs such as To a Haggis, Tam O’Shanter and Red Red Rose complete the night.

Both these typical Scottish foods and the whisky symbolise Scotland and it is partly down to Robert Burns and his work. Oats and meat were seen by him as a nutritious food for hardy warriors, as he described in the 1786 poem To A Haggis. A year earlier he had written Scotch Drink. Whisky was not typically enjoyed by the Scots back then but was to later become the nation’s drink. Burns had frequently proved himself to be a patriotic man.

Nowadays, around Dumfries, Ellisland Farm and his last home are open to visitors, a visitor centre sits on the riverbank, the Globe Inn pub remembers him and his mausoleum stands in St. Michael’s churchyard. Various statues and paintings can be seen across Scotland including at The Writer’s Museum and other galleries of Edinburgh. As no major Scottish museum would be complete without him, he also has a section in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove.

Many shrines to Robert Burns can be found across the globe.

Images in this article may be purchased as wall art or licensed digital downloads here.

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