Robert Burns was born January 25, 1759, in a straw-thatched cottage, to William and Agnes Burns. His mother had a great store of folklore songs and ballads, and his father tried at all costs to surround his children with good reading and conversation. At the age of seven, his father moved the family to Mt.Otiphant from Alloway. In 1773, at the age of only 15, Robert composed his first song, Handsome Nell, in honor of the village blacksmith’s daughter. In 1777, that family moved to Lochlea.
In 1778, Robert was fortunate enough to have a summer term of schooling at Kirkoswald. ” It is said he ate his meals with Fergusson’s poems in one hand and his spoon in the other.” (Essay on Burns, 24) Returning to the farm, he composed Poor Mailie’s Elegy, Winter, and other early pieces, under a blooming interest to become a poet of the people, or as he put it, “a Scottish bard.” In 1784 his father died, and Robert, with his brother Gilbert, moved to Mossgiel, in Mauchline. Most of Robert’s best work was accomplished here. At the age of 26, Robert helped his brother out on the farm. Every chance he got, during the day, he would pull his book out of his pocket and begin to read, and think out themes. At night, he would climb up into his attic room, where he would write his thoughts down before going to bed. He wrote ballads, epistles, epitaphs, satires, and dedications.
He wrote of winter, spring, and summer, of rivers, braes, and uplands. He wrote of anything, and of everything, that could have ever passed his mind working through those hard days on his farm. One thing that inspired Robert with great esteem is nature, this opens his eyes to great beauty, making his heart and voice express his praises. “There is a true old saying, ‘Love furthers knowledge:’ but above all, it is the living essence of that knowledge which makes poets; the first principle of its existence, increase, activity. Not man only, but all that environs man in the material and moral universe, is lovely in his sight: ‘the hoary hawthorn,’ the ‘troop of gray plover,’ the ‘solitary curlew,’ all are dear to him; all live in this Earth along with him, and to all he is knit as in mysterious brotherhood. How touching is it, for instance, that, amidst the gloom of personal misery, brooding over wintry desolation without him and within him, he thinks of the ‘ourie cattle’ and ‘silly sheep,’ and their suffering in the pitiless.” (Essay on Burns, 74) I thought me in the ourie cattle, Or silly sheep, wha bide this brattle O’ wintry war, Or thro’ the drift deep-lairing, sprattle, Beneath a scaur. Ilk happing bird, wee helpless thing, That in the merry months o’ spring Delighted me to hear thee sing, What comes o’ thee? Where wilt thou cow’r thy chittering wing, And close thy ee? Robert Burns took these simple everyday joys; that simple civilians would merely overlook through their normal everyday day; and looked at them in a new light. He expressed the joy he felt of the coming spring; of the sounds and sights he enthusiastically describes he can’t wait to witness. He sees life, and nature, deeper than the ordinary eye.
In the poem above, Burns describes his excitement for the spring. How he seems to wait with anticipation for the winter to “sprattle,” and the music of the spring to play its symphony. Under a lighter disguise, is the principle of love, which is of a great characteristic of Burns, occasionally manifests itself in the shape of humor. ” Everywhere, indeed, in his sunny moods, a full buoyant flood of mirth rolls through the mind of Burns; he rises to the high, and stoops to the low, and is brother and playmate to all Nature. Comes forth here and there, in evanescent and beautiful touches; as in Address to the Mouse, or the Farmer’s Mare, or the Elegy on the poor Mailie, which last may be reckoned his happiest effort of this kind. (Essay On Burns, 78) His humor came forth here and there, with beautiful touches, in such works as Address to the Mouse, Farmer’s Mare, or in his Elegy on Poor Mailie, which can be assumed his happiest effort of this kind. Thro’ a’ the town she trotted by him; A lang half-miled she could descry him; Wi’ kindly bleat, when she did spy him, She ran wi’ speed: A friend mair faithfu’ ne’er cam nigh him, Than Mailie dead. This piece from Elegy on Poor Mailie shows how Burns uses light humor to remember Mailie. Burns describes Mailie’s sly way of spying on, one can assume, her husband or lover. Burns uses the happy and gleeful times to describe Mailie’s small, but meaningful, life. He has the gift of taking small and innocent events, that no one would ever ponder on, and makes them into much more. Burns career and life is most recognized by his songs. During the last ten years of his life he became increasingly preoccupied with the collecting of traditional songs and folklore. Burns songs were by far the most finished and truly inspired pieces of Burns.
It is believed that it is of his songs that Burns chief influence as an author is found to depend. “Let me make the songs of a people,” said Burns, ” and you shall make it laws.” Burns songs are a simple perfection; they contain only pure poetic feeling, and genuine music of heart. His songs hit in another honest point, in spirit. They do not seem to be set to music; they have come to life, and dance in our mind and soul to harmony. ” With what tenderness he sings, yet with what vehemence and entireness! There is a piercing wail in his sorrow, the purest rapture in his joy; he burns with the sternest ire, or laughs with the loudest or slyest mirth; and yet he is sweet and soft, ‘sweet as the smile when fond lovers meet, and soft as their parting tear.’ If we farther take into account the immense variety of his subjects; how, from the loud flowing revel in ‘Willie brew’d a Peck o’ Maut,’ to the still, rapt enthusiasm of sadness for Mary in Heaven; from the glad kind greeting of Auld Langsyne, or the comic archness of Duncan Gray, to the fire-eyed fury of ‘Scots wha hae wi’ Wallace bied,’ he has found a tone and words for every mood of man’s heart, -it will seem small praise if we rank him as first of all our Song-writers; for we know not where to find one worthy of being second to him.” (Essay on Burns, 84) His songs not only sing of his heart, but also of the hearts of ever man and woman with feeling.
Burns songs spoke of the true feelings of the people. If they could not express their own feelings, Burns would do it for them. The songs became apart of the people’s lives, they told the true story of theirs lives. In his song I Dream’D I Lay, Burns reveals a simple wish of every man; to have peace. But, the song also exposes the truth of reality. The realization of man that peace only exist in eternity, if even there. I Dream’D I lay where flowers were springing Gaily in the sunny beam; List’ning to the wild birds singing, By a falling crystal stream: Straight the sky grew black and daring; Thro’ the woods the whirlwinds rave; Trees with aged arms were warring, O’er the swelling drumlie wave. Such was my life’s deceitful morning, Such the pleasure I enjoyed: But land or noon, loud tempest storming A’ my flowery bliss destroy’d. Tho’ fickle fortune has deceiv’d me- She promis’d fair, and perform’d but ill, Of mony a joy and hope bereav’d me- I bear a heart shall support me still. Robert Burns truly was a man of all forms. He could touch living souls with his heart relating songs. He had the power to control the mortal heart. He knew how to touch the soul, and how to move its feelings. His passion, his soul, is alive in his work, and in those who are inspired by it. Wherever his song echoes through Scotland, Burns passions still lives, and will always live.