This being the Scots poet Robert Burns birthday and I being a proud Scot myself I felt it only right to write about him today.
My father loves Burns and thinks his poetry should be compulsory reading in every school in the country. As a young man he knew a fellow worker in the shipyards in Clydebank who could recite many of Burns poems, learned by heart. He engenders that kind of passion, because he himself was passionate about life and the working man.
He made a lasting impression on, the 16-year-old Walter Scott, who described him later with great admiration:
His person was strong and robust; his manners rustic, not clownish, a sort of dignified plainness and simplicity which received part of its effect perhaps from knowledge of his extraordinary talents. There was a strong expression of shrewdness in all his lineaments; the eye alone, I think, indicated the poetical character and temperament. It was large, and of a dark cast, and literally glowed when he spoke with feeling or interest. I never saw such another eye in a human head, though I have seen the most distinguished men of my time.
— Walter Scott
He was a social activist and much of his work centres around economic inequality.
He was also a bit of a lad, enjoying plenty of drink and women, but there’s something about this ploughman turned poet that draws me in. That he would take time to notice a mouse scurrying off in fright while he toiled in the field, and later sit down to put pen to paper, considering how man and nature ought to be able to live together peacefully. He was also thinking of the working classes of the 18th century being at the mercy of the landowners and employers who could turn them out of their homes on a whim, as they often did, and the unfairness of this system.
An excerpt from “To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough” written in 1785
I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle,
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
He wished to preserve the old Scots songs and tunes, often putting new words to an old tune, giving it a new lease of life. Here he describes the process of finding words to aptly compliment the tunes.
My way is: I consider the poetic sentiment, correspondent to my idea of the musical expression, then chuse my theme, begin one stanza, when that is composed—which is generally the most difficult part of the business—I walk out, sit down now and then, look out for objects in nature around me that are in unison or harmony with the cogitations of my fancy and workings of my bosom, humming every now and then the air with the verses I have framed. when I feel my Muse beginning to jade, I retire to the solitary fireside of my study, and there commit my effusions to paper, swinging, at intervals, on the hind-legs of my elbow chair, by way of calling forth my own critical strictures, as my, pen goes.
To hear his many poems recited: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/robertburns/works/types/poem/