Robert Burns

Robert Burns (1759 - 1796) was the most democratic poet of the 18th century. His birthday is celebrated in Scotland as a national holiday.
Burns's poetry may be regarded as a treasury of all that is best in Scottish songs. Burns is very popular in Russia. The first translations of his works appeared in our country at the close of the 18th century and since then he has always been widely read. We admire the plain Scottish peasant who became one of the world's greatest poets.
His life. Robert Burns was born on January 25, 1759, in a small clay cottage at Alloway in Ayrshire, Scotland. His father, William Burns, was a poor farmer. Later, the poet wrote about him in his verses "My Father Was a Farmer."
Poor as he was, William Burns tried to give his son the best education he could afford. Robert was sent school at the age of six, but as his father could not pay for his two sons, Robert and his brother Gilbert attended school in turn. Thus William had to pay only for one pupil. When not at school, the boys helped the father with his work in the fields. Robert was at the plough working from morning till night He strained his heart, he suffered from severe attacks of rheumatic fever. The school was closed some months the boys had begun attending it, and William Burns persuaded two or three neighbours to invite a clever young man, Murdoch by name, to teach their children languages and grammar. Robert was a capable boy and, with the help of his new teacher, received a decent education. He learned the French and Latin languages and became fond of reading. He read whatever he could lay his hands on. His favourite writers were Shakespeare, Sterne, and Robert Fergusson, a talented Scottish poet (1750 - 1774), whose tragic fate deeply touched Burns. Burns started writing poems at the age of seventeen. He composed verses to the melodies of old folk­songs, which he had admired from his early childhood. He sang of the woods, fields and wonderful valleys of his native land.
The ploughing, which led to the composition of these songs, was profitless. In 1784, worn out, exhausted and burdened with debts, Burns's father, William Burns, died. After his death the family moved to Mossgiel where Robert and Gilbert managed to rent a small farm. The young men worked hard, but the land gave poor crops, and the affairs of the family went from bad to worse. The young poet keenly felt the injustice of the world, where the best land, pastures, and woods belonged to the landlords. His indignation was mirrored in his many verses, which became so dear to the hearts of the common people.
Though Burns despised those who worshipped money, "to be rich was not my wish" ("My Father Was a Farmer"), he now became well aware of the fact that poverty could ruin his whole life: he had fallen in love with Jean Armour and was going to marry her, but the girl's father did not want to have a poor peasant for his son- in law. The fact that the young people loved each other did not alter his intention to marry Jean to a rich man.
Seeing that there was no way for a poor peasant in Scotland, Burns decided to sail to Jamaica, in the hope of obtaining a job on some sugar plantation. To raise the passage money, Robert made up his mind to publish some of his poems. The little volume "Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect", published in 1786, went off rapidly and brought in about twenty guineas. The book contained lyrical, humorous and satirical poems written in his earlier years.
When Burns was about to leave for Jamaica, he received a letter from several Edinburgh scholars, who praised his verses and invited him to come to the capital. The letter changed the current of his life and kept the poet in his native land. He accepted the invitation, went to Edinburgh and within a few days was welcomed as one of the "wonders of the world". A new and enlarged edition of his poems was the result He toured Scotland in triumph - as "Caledonia's Bard". He was received by the "pillars" of society, and the doors of the most fashionable drawing-rooms were open to him. But Robert felt ill at ease among those people who tried to use his talent for their own ends and never really helped or morally supported him. Burns was never offered an opportunity to devote all his energy to literature. After the new edition of his poems, Burns returned to his native village with money enough to buy a farm and marry Jean Armour, whose father was now glad to have the poet as his son-in law. Though Burns’s poems were really popular, he always remained poor; most of the money were spent on the monument to Robert Fergusson, the rest was hardly enough to support his wife and children. His work at the farm, hard as it was, did not make him rich either. Again there remained the problem of earning a living, again he was without sufficient capital to see him over the inevitable rainy day. In 1791 he went bankrupt and was obliged to sell the farm and take a position as customs officer in the town of Dumfries. The job was extremely hard: the poet had to cover long distances on horseback in any weather. However, neither weariness nor hardships could suppress the poet in him, and he continued his literary work.
Hard work destroyed the poet's health. He died in poverty at the age of thirty-seven, haunted by the shadow of the debtors' prison. Even on his death-bed, he got a letter in which he was threatened with imprisonment for a debt of seven pounds.
After his death, the widow and children of the great poet were left without a shilling. Burns was mourned by all the honest people of his country. His funeral was attended by a crowd often thousand. They were the common Scottish people whom he had loved and for whom he had written his poems and songs. And those common people raised enough money by subscription to provide his widow with sustenance for the rest of her life and give all his children an education.
Since the death of Robert Bums, all visitors to Dumfries pay homage to the poet by visiting his burial-place.
Robert Burns's literary work
Robert Bums was a true son of the Scottish peasantry. His poems embody their thoughts and aspirations, their human dignity, their love of freedom and hatred of all oppressors. In his poem "Is There for Honest Poverty" Bums says that it is not wealth and titles, but the excellent qualities of man's heart and mind that make him "king o' men for a' that". Independence of mind and honesty, sense and dignity - these are the qualities the poet appreciates: they are "higher rank than a' that". Many verses of the poet were inspired by the Great French Revolution, which he supported with all his heart. In his poem "The Tree of Liberty" Bums praises the French revolutionaries who planted "the Tree of Liberty" in their country. The poet regrets the fact that there is no "Tree of Liberty" in Britain, that is to say, the people do not struggle for freedom.
While the realism and humanism of Burns's poetry make him one of the most progressive writers of the Enlightenment, the democratic and revolutionary spirit brings him closer to the revolutionary romantic trend of the 19th century.
The poet was deeply interested in the glorious past of his country, which he called "the birthplace of valour, the country of worth" ("My Heart's in the Highlands"). In many of his poems he sings the beauty of his native land.
In spite of his poverty, hunger and never-ceasing toil, Burns was an optimist. He enjoyed his life as few of his contemporaries did. Burns believes in the happy future of mankind.
The poem "John Barleycorn", in which he tells of the way whisky is made, is symbolic in its meaning. John Barleycorn personifies the strength of the common people. This strength is immortal and cannot be done away with.
Burns was a remarkable lyric poet. Some of his lyrical pieces are tender and pathetic, some abound in humour and irony. His masterful touch upon the human heart-strings is the most characteristic feature of his talent. Such lyrics as "A Red, Red Rose", "Auld Lang Syne", "John Barleycorn", "My Heart's in the Highlands", and many others were composed to the old folk-melodies or later set to music, and are popular as songs all over the world.
In his lyrical poems and songs Bums glorifies true love and friendship, free from any motives of gain and hypocritical morality. In many of them he reveals the beauty of nature. In all his works he remains the bard of freedom.

No comments: