"Let Kings and courtiers rise and fall,
this world has many turns.
But, brightly shines above them all,
is the star o' Rabbie Burns."
Have you ever heard of a Shakespeare night, or a Wordsworth day? No? But mention Robert Burns and the whisky glasses are raised, the pipes skirl and a nation goes into a night of sentimental reflection of a true legend. Robert Burns, or 'Rabbie' Burns as he is known in Scotland, was born in the small Ayrshire village of Alloway on the 25th of January 1759, and every year thousands across the world celebrate the birth of the greatest poet that ever lived. But in Scotland the man is more than a legend, he is an institution, a part of the fabric of the nation, like whisky, tartan and the weather. While other poets are seen by the masses as obscure and irrelevant, Robert Burns appeals to everyone, not only his amazing poetry, but there is something very endearing about the character of the man himself.
Although born into abject poverty, Rabbie had by the age of 18 acquired a good knowledge of English literature, and a grounding in Latin, Greek and French. This level of education for a farmhand in the 18th century was unique to Scotland. The Church provided free education for everyone - a school in every parish. Although he worked very hard on the farm, his spare moments were spent reading poetry, English and Scottish literature. He also became a detailed observer of the land and of the men who toiled upon it, and he enjoyed their quick wit and humour. This earthy education is one of the main reasons that Burns appeals to the common man.
It was in 1786, while contemplating a move to Jamaica that Rabbie Burns produced his first collection of poems, including 'To a mouse' - While working on his farm he inadvertently disturbed a mouse's nest, he went on to write a poem that could be described as environmentally conscious, while exploring man's psyche. It begins 'Wee Sleekit, couring, timorous beastie' and contains the immortal line 'The best laid schemes of mice and men'. They became an instant success, and Burns was catapulted into super-stardom. Soon Burns was being paraded through the clubs and great houses of Edinburgh, where on one occasion he met the young Sir Walter Scott. Rabbie was also now able to indulge in his other passions - Drink, cards and of course the young ladies. To say that he was a Lothario does him an injustice, but he certainly enjoyed this aspect of life. His frailties in this area also add to his popularity.
His second publication brought him enough money to move back to Ayrshire, where he married Jean Armour, and wrote 'Auld lang syne' amongst others. This song, which tells us to forget our differences and remember the good days, the days of long ago, is one of the most sung songs in the world. As 1999 passed into 2000, people across the earth looked to the future by remembering the
days of Auld lang syne. Although married, he couldn't control his vices and he soon found himself penniless again. To earn money he worked as an exciseman. This is one of the most hated professions in Scotland, an anathema to every Scottish drinker. But he still saw the funny side, and wrote the very amusing 'The Deil's awa with the exciseman'. At this time he also wrote some of his most popular songs such as 'My Love is like a red, red rose', one of the greatest love songs ever written, and the patriotic 'Scot's Wha Hae', supposedly echoing Robert the Bruce's rallying speech at the battle of Bannockburn, and an inspiration to all men fighting oppression. By the early 1790s Burns's health was suffering, mainly due to a rheumatic heart disorder, but he found time to write his masterpiece - 'Tam o' Shanter'. This hugely popular poem tells of the perils of all day drinking and ends in our hero being chased across a bridge by a beautiful witch. In 1796, aged only 37, Robert Burns died. He is buried in Dumfries in the South west. Scotland had lost one of her greatest sons. A common man touched by genius.
On the back of his first compilation of poems, Burns toured the Highlands, visiting beauty spots such as the Birks of Aberfeldy and the Falls of Bruar. He also met up with the mercurial fiddler Neil Gow at Dunkeld. What a party that must have been ! Burns was awestruck by the beauty of the Highlands, inspiring him to write memorable pieces such as 'My heart's in the Highlands' and 'Heilan' Lassie'. Burns was writing at a time just after the 1745 Jacobite rebellion which saw the feared Highlanders swarm down through the more 'genteel' Lowlands. The defeat of the Highlanders on the bleak Culloden moor in 1746 changed many of the pre-conceptions the Lowlanders had for their Highland cousins. Attitudes changed, and the Highlands became romanticized, and popular. Burns was instrumental in this sea change, He was enraptured by what he saw, and he wanted to tell the world.
We at 'Rabbie's Trail Burners' are proud to follow in the footsteps of the great man, and bring visitors to see the stunning scenery of the Scottish Highlands. Every year we take thousands of visitors to the very same places that brought inspiration to Burns, and much more besides.
So raise your glass, join us on the journey of a lifetime, and salute the immortal memory of Rabbie Burns.
...And below are the words "To a Haggis" by Burns himself - proudly recited at Burn's nights around the world on 25th January every year.
Fair fa your honest sonsie face,
Great Chieftan o the Puddin-race!
Aboon them a ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe or thairm
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang s my arm.
The Groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o need,
While thro your pores the dews distil Like Amber bead.
His knife see Rustic – labour dight
An cut you up we’ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright
Like one ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm, reekin, rich!
Then, horn for horn they strecth an’ strive,
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
till a’ their weel – swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rise,
Be thankit hums.
Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or Olio wad straw a sov,
Or fricasse wad make her spew
Wi perfect scummer,
Looks down wi sneering, scornfu' view
On sic a dinner?
Poor devil! See him over owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip – lash,
His nieve a nit
Thro’ bluidy flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!
But mark the rustic, haggis fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his walie nieve a blade.
He’ll make it whistle;
An’ legs an’ arms, an’ heads will sned
Like taps o’ thristle
Ye pow’rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o’fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware,
That jaups in luggies,
But, if you wish her gratefu’ pray’r
Gie her a Haggis!
A History of Scotland
Facts and Figures