Something for Thursday: Robert Burns Edition

Robert Burns, painted by Alexander Nasmyth.

Robert Burns, the great poet troubadour of Scotland, was born this date, 1759. For a basic primer on Burns, this article is a good place to start. For some true appreciation, though, skip the basic intro and go right to Sheila O’Malley.

He was prolific. As it stands, there are over 400 Robert Burns known songs in existence. He was a celebrity in his own time. The fame he achieved in his own lifetime, however, is nothing compared to his posthumous fame.

Some of his verses are so engrained in our culture we can’t even imagine anyone wrote them at all. They seem to have just descended upon us, whole, from the heavens, the ether, Olympus. If you’re drunk on New Year’s Eve, gripping a bottle of champagne, and singing “Auld Lang Syne” at the top of your lungs, annoying people on the subway, you are quoting Robbie Burns.

Burns is one of those poets whose work is best sounded aloud, or at least sounded in the mouth, even if one doesn’t make the sounds; one should at least feel them. There are verses of his that seem to make no sense, due to the Scots dialect, but when you sound them out, the meaning becomes absolutely, utterly clear.

For me, the union of Burns’s words and Dougie Maclean’s voice is one of those things of perfection that we get to enjoy once in a while in this world. Here is one of my favorite songs, thanks to Robert Burns and Dougie Maclean!


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