Robert Burns was born in Alloway in Ayrshire in the Southwestern part of Scotland on January 25th 1759.

The cottage
The Burns Cottage in Alloway, Ayrshire

A poet and lyricist he is at least popularly regarded as the National Poet of Scotland. Burns’ poems are often in Scots, although certainly not exclusively (although the Scots ones seem to give our readers agita when we slip one into our cryptograms!). He is seen as one of the founders of the romantic movement and an inspiration to many. He did more to make the world aware of the Scots’ tongue than any other person. “Auld Lang Syne” is known world wide (although few people of the millions who know the title, know that it literally is the equivalent of “Old long since”, but more reasonably means something akin to “Long, long ago: or “days gone by”

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne* ?
         For auld lang syne, my jo,
         for auld lang syne,
         we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
         for auld lang syne.
And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp !
and surely I’ll be mine !
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

         We twa hae run about the braes,
         and pu’d the gowans fine ;
         But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
         sin auld lang syne.

           We twa hae paidl’d i' the burn,
           frae morning sun till dine ;
           But seas between us braid hae roar’d
           sin auld lang syne.

             And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
             and gie's a hand o’ thine !
             And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
             for auld lang syne.

Surely the opening line of “O my Luve’s like a red, red rose” is almost as well know

O my Luve's like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve's like the melodie
That’s sweetly play'd in tune.

As 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:

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee well, my only Luve
And fare thee well, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.

Burns is also responsible for the enormously powerful and patriotic “Scots wha hae” which for some time served as the unofficial national anthem and has seen service as the song of the Scottish National Party. It has been sung at the close of their annual national conference.

'Scots, wha hæ wi Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led,
Welcome tæ yer gory bed,
Or tæ victorie.

'Now's the day, an now's the hour:
See the front o battle lour,
See approach proud Edward's power -
Chains and Slaverie.

'Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha will fill a coward's grave?
Wha sæ base as be a slave?
Let him turn an flee.

'Wha, for Scotland's king and law,
Freedom's sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand, or Freeman fa,
Let him on wi me.

'By Oppression's woes and pains,
By your sons in servile chains!
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be free.

'Lay the proud usurpers low,
Tyrants fall in every foe,
Libertie's in every blow! -
Let us do or dee.

But for all of that, Burns’ personality comes through many of his poems and lyrics with a marvelous humor and a twinkle in the eye. His ability to write poems about the most unexpected subjects as he did in “To a Louse” and “To a Mouse” indicate something of his genius of being able to see something poetic in anything.

He was certainly not one to shy away from all aspects of life and his “Bawdy poems” (some of the titles can even make some people blush!) indicate an honest earthiness in his world view, and that even bodily functions were worthy of a poem or two! One suspects that his amorous trysts (which would appear to put some of the current crop of rock performers to shame) probably had something to do with this as well!

The haggis is one of the favorite sources of jokes about Scottish things – especially for people who are unaware of what it actually is. In jokes it is hunted trapped and otherwise maligned.

One of my friends has a rather ancient Scottish cook book which tells who to make haggis by explaining that one takes “the liver, lights and lungs of a sheep and hang them over the back of a chair….”. The instructions would probably give a modern health inspector a stroke. This is akin to American barbeque which has similar problems. One barbeque cook said “Anyone with a lick of sense knows you can’t make good barbeque and conform to the health codes”

Some time ago a woman who managed to read ceilidh as “Caley” also announced that the haggis had not yet arrived and they only had hors d’oeuvres made of haggis, which she referred to as “haggis balls”, While the audience dissolved in tears of laughter, the poor woman simply looked puzzled.

So this “poor” dish has been the subject of jokes (both good and bad) and also the subject of a glorious poem by Robert Burns extolling the virtues of this great dish.

Address to a Haggis

For a nice translation

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, 
Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o' 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 wi ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
The auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
'Bethankit' hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect scunner,
Looks down wi sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro bloody 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 whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.

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 ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis

Who else but Burns could have taken a “rustic’s” dish and make it greater than “French cuisine” and make a hero out of the common everyday Scot?

Some of his political views had alienated many friends and he grew despondent. His health began to fail, and he died tragically on July 21 1796 in Dumfries at the age of 37. The burial was 4 days later on July 25. 1796. The man may have died but his poetry and influence continue.

Monument to Burns

A Monument to Burns in the Burns Gardens in Alloway