O’ Mice an’ Men

Poet: Robert Burns
Date of Birth: 25 January 1759, Alloway, Scotland
Date of Death: 21 July 1796, Dumfries, Scotland

Robert Burns, better known as Rabbie Burns, is was a poet and lyricist. Regarded as the national poet of Scotland, he is the best known of the poets who have written in the Scots language. A pioneer of the Romantic Movement Burns was a source of inspiration to the founders of both socialism and liberalism.

Burns was born in Alloway, Scotland, the eldest of seven children, in a house built by his father where he lived until 1766.The family moved to Mount Oliphant farm where Burns grew up in poverty and hardship. The extreme manual labour left its mark in a premature stoop and weakened health. Burns had little schooling and got most of his education from his father, who taught his children read, writing, arithmetic, history, and geography. He was also taught Latin, French and mathematics by John Murdoch. After years of home education Burns was sent to Dalrymple Parish School in mid-1772. He returned home at harvest time to full-time farm labouring until 1773 when he was sent to lodge with Murdoch to study grammar, Latin and French. By the time, he was 15 he was the principal labourer at Mount Oliphant farm and in 1775 he was sent to finish his education with a tutor at Kirkoswald.

The Burns family moved from farm to farm, as the father was unable to improve their circumstances despite his ability and character. In 1777, the Burns moved to Lochlea, near Tarbolton where they stayed until William Burns death in 1784. The family became integrated into the community of Tarbolten and Robert joined a country dancing school in 1779 and formed the Tarbolton Bachelors’ Club in 1780. His earliest letters date from this time, making romantic overtures to Alison Begbie. He wrote her four songs and he suggested marriage but ultimately, she turned him down. Burns was initiated in to the Masonic lodge St. David, Tarbolton in 1781 when he was 22.

In 1781 Burns moved to Irvine to learn to become a flax-dresser, but the flax workshop burnt to the ground during the workers’ celebration for New Year 1781/82. Burns returned to Lochlea. During this time, he met Captain Richard Brown who encouraged Burns to become a poet. Burns continued to write poems and songs and began a commonplace book in 1783. After the death of their father, Burns and his brother, Gilbert, struggled to keep on the farm but it failed and they moved to a farm at Mossgiel near Mauchline. In mid-1874 Burns came to know a group of girls known as the Belles of Mauchline. His first child, born to his mother’s servant in 1875, was Elizabeth ‘Bess’ Burns. She was born while he was involved in a relationship with Jean Amour, who became pregnant with twins. To avoid social disgrace Jean was sent to live with her uncle in Paisley. They married in 1788 and had nine children, three survived infancy.

Burns was unsuccessful at farming which left him in financial difficulties and to support his family he took up work in Jamaica as book-keeper/assistant overseer of slaves at a plantation near Port Antonio. Burns egalitarian views are typified by The Slave’s Lament six years later but in 1786 there was little public awareness of the abolitionist movement.

Burns’ prospects were better than they ever had bee but he had become soured by life experiences and alienated many friends by expressing solidarity with the French and American Revolution and the advocates of political reform including votes for all men. His political views were noted and to prove his loyalty to the Crown, Burns joined the Royal Dumfries Volunteers in 1795. He began to age prematurely and his health began to deteriorate. Robert Burns died at the age of 37 in 1796.

A Red, Red Rose by Robert Burns

O my Luve is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve is like the melody
That’s sweetly played in tune.
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.
Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.
And fare thee weel, my only luve!
And fare thee weel awhile!
And I will come again, my luve,
Though it were ten thousand mile.

©JG Farmer 2020

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