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Robert Burns
The bard of Scotland
1759 –1796
Burns alone is enough to make us everlasting
friends with Scotland.
S. Marshak
In a poor farm-house kitchen a table is pushed close to the window. There is a lot of paper on the table; a candle is burning,
stuck in an empty bottle. A hand is swiftly moving over a sheet of paper, a rough strong hand, a farmer's hand. Yet the
handwriting is fine and delicate. The darkness outside is lifting; the feeble light of dawn is coming through the narrow
window. The night is over — still the hand is writing on. Whose hand is it? Who is the writer?
It is a poet's hand. The writer is Robert Burns, the farmer-poet, the pride and glory of Scotland. He is writing a new poem.
How did he come to be here, in this poor farm-house, writing on a kitchen table, lit by a single candle? Let us look back to
the year 1750.
In 1750 William Burnes (for so he spelled his name), a farmer-gardener accepted an offer to rent a few acres of land in a tiny
village in Ayrshire. He was a kind person who loved and understood people. He wanted to become an independent farmer.
But all the land belonged to the landlords and in order to take a farm one had to pay for a lease first, and then a monthly rent
to the landlord. So William Burns borrowed one hundred pounds and became a farmer in Alloway. He was a sober
hardworking man. With his own hands he built a "clay biggin", married a pretty girl, Agnes Brown, with beautiful eyes and a
soft singing voice and brought her to his modest home.
It was there that on January 25, 1759, Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet, was born (the first of seven children). The
storms were terrible that year, the wind blew the roof off and the mother with her new-born baby had to seek shelter in a
neighbour's house.
His farther knew the value of a good education and he tried to give his children the best education he could afford. Robert
Burns came fond of reading. He read whatever he could lay his hands on. His favourite writers were Shakespeare, Smolett,
Robert Fergusson, a talented Scottish poet. Fergusson’s tragic fate deeply touched Burns. Later Burns devoted many
verses to Fergusson.
So his childhood was very hard, full of difficulties, troubles and unexpected moments. For some years Burns worked on the
family field, plugging and reaping. The combination of hard physical labour and poor food in his youth that brought about the
first symptoms of the heart disease which troubled him for much of his life and from which he died.
Scotland. Burns’ Cottage in Alloway
Here, in Alloway, Robert spent the first seven years of his life, listening to his mother's old Scottish songs and to his Aunt
Betty's fantastic tales and songs about devils, ghosts, fairies and witches. Years later Burns put much of this into his great
poems "Tom O'Shanter" and "Hallowe'en".
Robert and his brother Gilbert went to the local school. When the school was closed down for lack of money, William Burns
and his four neighbours hired a young school-teacher, John Murdoch, to teach their boys. The two Burns brothers were his
favourite pupils and he often came to the farm to see them and to teach them grammar, history, English prose and poetry
and even some Latin. By 1766 William Burns had four children. He rented a bigger farm, Mount Oliphant. But they could
hardly make ends meet. The soil was the poorest in the county and the harvest was poor, too.
The distance and the hard work on the new farm made it impossible for Robert and his brother to continue their studies at
Murdoch's school.
The two little boys had to do a man's work, helping their father. And very often Robert composed his poems and songs when
going behind the plough driven by oxen. His first love song was dedicated to Nell, a country girl, who helped them in the
field. Nell was thirteen at the time and Robert was a year older. "My Handsome Nell" became the most popular song in the
Once I loved a bonny lass,
And, oh, I love her still.
She dresses, eye, so clean and neat
Both decent and genteel;
But there is something in her gait
Makes any dress look weel.
It is interesting to note that, at fourteen, Burns had already decided to write his poetry in the Scottish dialect. His letters show
that he could write English very well, but he loved the richness of the Scottish tongue.
Robert's father was getting old and ill with so much work and constant worry about the rent money. It made Robert bitter to
see how the greater part of the harvest went to the landlord and just the remains—to the farmer who worked on the land
from morning till night.
In 1772 William Burns sent Robert and his brother to study at the village school at Dalrymple, four miles from Ayr. But the
boys had only one pair of shoes, so they went to school in turn: one week Robert and the next— Gilbert. But in the summer
Robert was sent by his father for three weeks to Ayr to live and study with Murdoch, now an English master at the Ayr
school. The fourteen-year-old Burns and his teacher did their best and Robert even started learning French.
In 1777 the Burns family moved to Lochlea, a larger farm close to the small town of Tarbolton. Robert was almost twenty. He
was a handsome, educated lad, well read, well mannered (he even. went to dancing classes "to give my manners a brush"),
with a reputation of a poet and a brilliant conversationalist.
Soon he became friendly with the local youths and, on Robert's initiative, they founded the Tarbolton Bachelor's Club. The
"mean-spirited, worldly mortals, whose only will is to heap up money" were not admitted to the Club.
At first Lochlea farm gave some profit, then everything began to go wrong. It was a bad year all over Scotland. Life on the
farm grew harder every month. Overworked, always worried, often hungry... in February 1784, William Burns died. Even with
all these difficulties and troubles Robert began to write a "Book 1783—1785 of observation, hints, poetry, etc., by Robert
Burns, a man who had little art in making money and still less in keeping it".
Robert became the head of the family. The Burnses moved again to a smaller farm of Mossgiel. Robert was full of resolution
to make the new farm yield profit. He read manuals on farming, went to markets, asked advice from the old farmers, but
fanning again failed him. And he began to be known among the neighbours "as a maker of rhymes". His songs were sung in
all the neighbour's houses. Handwritten copies of his poems had been going around.
1784 at a dancing-party Robert Burns met the "beauty of the village"—Jean Armour, the daughter of a rich master-mason.
Jean was eleven years younger. It was "love at first sight"! Robert Burns wrote many beautiful poems and songs about love
dedicated to Jean. And one of them was his “A Red, Red Rose”.
A red, red rose
O my Luve's like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June;
O my Luve's like a melodie
That's sweetly play'd in tune.
Though old Armour would not hear of giving away his pretty girl to a poor farmer, the young couple continued meeting
secretly and soon became very intimate. In fact Jean promised to be true to him in spite of all the obstacles. Robert gave her
a paper declaring them man and wife. This was a perfectly legal procedure in Scotland (until 1939): a marriage by
declaration. But old Armour was furious; he tore the document up, forbidding his daughter to ever see her lover again. Jean
obeyed1 without protesting! Robert could hardly believe it, he was so unhappy and bitter against his beloved that he, too,
swore never to see her again. Yet life decided otherwise.
Burns decided to leave Scotland and accepted a job in Jamaica. It was about that time that Robert met 23-year-old
"Highland" Mary Campbell in Tarbolton. They met on the banks of the river in May, when all the trees were in blossom. He
told the kind girl of his tragic love and she pitied the young poet and pity soon turned into tenderness and love. But what had
he to offer her? Nothing but poverty and a hard life on the farm. So they decided to marry and emigrate to Jamaica together.
When all the preparations were made and Robert was ready to go to Greenock to meet Mary (from Greenock ships were
sailing to Jamaica), he was informed of the sudden death of the girl. Terrible news! Another blow! More sorrow and
disappointment for the young poet. One of his best poems was dedicated to "Highland Mary".
The golden hours on Angel wings
Flew over me and my Dearie.
For dear to me as light and life
Was my sweet Highland Mary.
There are more lovely poems full of sad and tender feelings dedicated to Highland Mary. Meanwhile, handwritten copies of
his poems had been going round and all his friends persuaded him to publish them. In 1786 a small volume of "Poems
Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect", was produced by a Kilmarnock printer. The 612 copies were sold out in a month. Another
edition was soon published in Edinburgh. Overnight Burns was famous. Professors and writers became his admiring friends.
His plans of a voyage to Jamaica suddenly became pointless, he went to Edinburgh instead.
Edinburgh received Burns as a literary and social phenomenon. The titled people loved his poetry; he was invited to the best
homes, to the most brilliant parties. He was tall, dressed in a very personal and becoming way, and black curls were tied at
the back by a ribbon.
At one of those receptions, where the now famous farmer-poet was the guest of honour, Burns met a boy — no older than
16 — who looked up at him with great admiration. This youngster was later to become the famous novelist, known not only
in Scotland but all over the world — Walter Scott. "I never saw such burning eyes." Walter Scott said later, "They were like
shining stars." Then a regular correspondence between Robert and the best-known educated members of Edinburgh
society, writers, editors, scientists, etc., started and lasted till his death. Everybody was surprised to find his letters very
clever, in excellent style, showing a great knowledge of poetry — and that in a simple farmer, who never went to a highclass school!
Burns was too sensible to allow his head to be turned by all this admiration and attention. He had the ability to see people as
they really were — vain, often heartless, caring for nothing but money and their reputation in society.
For all his brilliant success, surrounded by the rich and the nobles, his heart always went to the poor, the needy, the farmers,
those who by their labour keep the rich in their castles, dressed in silk and velvet while they themselves have nothing but
Robert Burns did not really belong to high-class society in Edinburgh and he knew it. He was a poet, a simple freedomloving man. He fearlessly expressed his progressive ideas. Soon he became a member of a club of progressive-minded
people and with their help he published, in April 1787, the Edinburgh edition of his poems — 2,000 copies. He soon met Mr.
Johnson, the publisher of old Scottish songs, "The Musical Museum". Burns became the chief contributor of Scottish folksongs, though he was never paid for his work.
He kept seeing Jean from time to time and the old feeling of tender love filled his heart anew. He knew he couldn't wish for a
better friend and a more devoted wife. They became legally married. John Armour, now that Burns had become famous,
gave his consent. Robert wrote to a friend: "Greetings from Mrs. Burns! Now she bears that title before the whole world".
Their newly born twins were called Jean and Robert (both soon died). The family with the two children born before settled on
a small farm at Ellisland, not far from Dumfries. But farming there was hardly better than in the other parts of Scotland.
Robert Burns understood that he could never keep his wife and children on farming alone. He had to have a government
job. With many difficulties and assistance on the part of his friend, he finally was appointed a junior Excise clerk (1788). So,
besides his work on the farm, he had to go about the country-side, sometimes covering 200 miles every week on horseback.
This made him very tired and took a lot of his time. The roads were bad, the weather in the mountains awful. And his pay
was very small. But as soon as he returned, tired and hungry, he found a loving wife who often sang his new poems to him,
thus helping him to put them to music.
Of a' the airts the wind can blaw
I see her in the desy flowers
I see her sweet and fair;
I hear her in the tunefu' birds,
I see her charm the air;
There's not a bonie flower that springs
By fountain, shaw, or green;
There's not a bonie bird that sings
But minds me o' my Jean.
Тебя напоминает мне
В полях цветок любой.
И лес в вечерней тишине
Заворожен тобой.
Бубенчик ландыша в росе,
Да и не он один,
А все цветы и птицы все
Поют о милой Джин…
Once Robert Burns met an antiquarian, Captain Francis Grose, who had done research on the historical past of Scotland for
a book on the "Antiquities of Scotland". Soon they became friends, and Grose asked Burns to contribute to his book. Burns
agreed and asked Captain Francis to delude an illustration of Kirk Alloway (where Burn's father was buried) in his book.
Grose agreed, on the condition that Burns provided a witch story to accompany the drawing. That was how his best and
most famous poetical narrative "Tarn O'Shanter" was composed, Robert Burns considered it to be his best achievement.
The poem is based on a very popular tale about a man who goes riding home from a tavern at night. He's had one drink "too
many". It is getting late, his home is far away. The wind is blowing hard, it is dark, he cannot see his hand in front of him. His
poor old horse Meg is galloping along faster and faster... Now they are riding past the old Kirk of Alloway. He hears a terrible
noise. He peeps in. Oh! What does he see there? The kirk is full of fantastic creatures, devils, witches, fairies, all kinds of
terrible wild beasts dancing round and round the church! Suddenly they see the man. They all rush out after him into the
darkness; into the storm ... One of the witches almost catches him... But contrary to the tradition, the brave lad, thanks to his
faithful horse Meg (or Meggy) escapes all danger, gets safely home, not even losing his tam-o'-shanter (the Scottish beret).
Only poor old Meg has lost her tail! This poem, full of fantasy and humour, has become so popular in the English-speaking
world, that even the French "beret" is called now "tarn" or "tarn o'shanter".
In 1789 a revolution broke out in France. It had a tremendous influence on Robert Burns. He openly expressed his feelings
and ideas. In a letter he wrote: "I am determined to flatter no one, be it kings, lords, clergy or critics". He was full of
enthusiasm for the developments in revolutionary France. New ideas occupied his mind. He dreamt about a happy future.
When he spoke about future he was always optimistic. He believed that the “world would live in peace”.
Like brethren in a common cause,
We’ d on each other smile, man;
And equal rights and equal laws
Wad gladden every isle, man.
Забудут рабство и нужду
Народы и края, брат,
И будут люди жить в ладу,
Как дружная семья, брат!
The Revolution in France impressed Burns greatly. He always stood for liberty and was against social inequality.
The tree of liberty
Heard ye o' the Tree o' France,
And wat ye what's the name o't?
Around it a' the patriots dance —
Weel Europe kens the fame o't!
It stands where a nee the Bastile stood —
A prison built by kings, man,
When Superstition's hellish brood
Kept France in leading-strings, man.
Дерево свободы
Есть дерево в Париже, брат.
Под сень его густую
Друзья спешат,
Победу торжествуя.
Где нынче у его ствола
Свободный люд толпится,
Вчера Бастилия была,
Всей Франции темница.
Handwritten copies of this poem were read by all his friends. Burns’s honest criticism, his hatred of oppression, snobbery,
bigotry and so on, were the reason why the rich and mighty had forsaken him. The few friends in Edinburgh that were left
had great difficulty in helping him to keep his job in the Excise and often saved him from being arrested.
The young poet felt injustice of the world, where landlords owned the best land. His protest is shown in his poems. Robert
Burns depicted the life he knew and his poems touched the heart and soul of every reader. Burns won great acclaim. His
poems and ballads were very popular.
Burns was an active participant in the revival of rich Scottish folklore, the best poet and scientist, connoisseur of Scottish
history, the way of life, legends and traditions.
Robert Burns valued most of all such human qualities as pride, honesty, dignity, courage, intellect.
He declared that a man is a man, he must be treated as a man, and have the freedom of a man. He did not care for wealth
and titles. He wrote about things eternal. He saw injustice everywhere and his thoughts were about Sense, Honesty,
Independence. Scotland in the times of Burns was becoming a country where capitalist industry was developing rapidly,
where the wealthy could live in elegance, idleness and pleasure. But it was the land of desperately poor farmers who had no
land, no money for anyequipment and who had to leave their fields, looking for work in town. Thousands went begging from
home to home.
Robert Burns was feeling too ill and tired to continue both farming and his excise duties as well. So in 1791 the Burnses
moved into a flat in Dumfries. He, who had visited the grand folk at Castle Gordon and Athol House, had to live in a shabby
house in Dumfries, struggling with poverty and sickness, at the prime, of his poetical talent. The last 5 years of his life were
very difficult for Burns. His work was hard. But he went on writing his beautiful poems and songs. Now he wanted people to
understand that treasures and pleasures can’t make people happy.
On his death-bed, he was absolutely penniless, forgotten, neglected by all his neighbours, his important Edinburgh friends,
and even by his own brother. He had to write a pathetic letter to Jean's father, asking him to help Jean, who was expecting a
baby, after his death.
"A Winter Night" is the saddest, most bitter and moving poem he had ever written (a few days before his death).
You banks and slopes of bonnie Doon,
How can you bloom so fresh and fair!
How can you sing, you little birds,
And I so weary, full of care!
Robert Burns died on July 21, 1796 from rheumatic heart disease. Thousands from all over the country followed him through
the streets of Dumfries to his last resting-place.
Jean had five children. Thanks to the subscriptions she had enough money and they did not live in need.
Robert Burns was an interesting personality. He was a man of character. A man of principle, and a brilliant talker. He was a
bitter satirist and a rebel against the social order in his country. He wanted justice for his people. People admired his love
songs. Robert Burns wrote : “There is certainly some connection between Love, Music and Poetry.” His poems, songs,
ballads, and epigrams are known and loved by people all over the world. Many of them have been translated into almost
every language. In Russia six of his poems were translated for the first time by Mikhailov in 1856. Shchepkina-Kupernick,
Bagritsky and other poets translated Burns’ poems, too. But the best translations were made by Marshak. Thanks to
Marshak’s trsnslations we have come to know and love Robert Burns.
Small societies of admirers often honour great writers putting up monuments and statues in the birth-places or in cities like
London. But R.Burns is regarded by the whole Scottish people as their national poet. His birthday is celebrated every year in
cities, towns and villages by all kinds of clubs and associations.
Burns’ house in Dumfries is turned into a museum. It is restored to its original condition, filled with Burns relics and with
furnishings of the period. A large museum has also been built in the grounds containing extensive and important Burns
relics, and both cottage and museum are open to the public.
Among the many exhibits of outstanding interest is the poet’s family bible, containing on a fly-leaf the family history. Most of
the entries are the poet’s own hand, but the last sad entry, recording the birth of his youngest child, is in the hand-writing of
one of his descendants: “Maxwell. Born 26 July, 1796, the day of his Father’s Funeral. So named after Dr. Maxwell, the
Physician, who attended the Poet in his last illness.” The museum also contains a vast collection of the original manuscripts
of many of his poems and letters, and also a first – Kilmarnock – edition of the poet’s works.
Of slightly more gruesome interest is a plaster mask of the poet’s skull, taken when his mausoleum was reopened in 1834
for his wife’s funeral.
In the cottage itself can be seen the bed in which Burns was born and a variety of furniture used by either the poet himself or
his family. Apart altogether from its associations with Burns the thatched cottage is well worth seeing as a fine example of a
typical working-class country home of the period.
A Mausoleum (like a Greek temple) is visited by thousands of tourists every year - paying homage to Scotland’s Bard-Robert
Burns. Now we easily understand why Burns is so beloved by the people in Scotland and indeed by people throughout the
world. He was of the people. He shared their life and their feelings. The Scottish National Anthem "Auld Lang Syne"
composed by Robert Burns has now become a parting song at any party or meeting of friends all over the world.
Auld lang syne
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We'll take a cup of kindness yet
For auld lang syne.
And here's a hand, my trusty friend,
And give us a hand of thine,
We'll take a cup of kindness yet
For auld lang syne.
Старая дружба
Забыть ли старую любовь
И не грустить о ней
Забыть ли старую любовь
И дружбу прежних дней?
До дна!
За счастье прежних дней!
С тобою выпьем, старина,
За счастье прежних дней!
И вот с тобой сошлись мы вновь,
Твоя рука – в моей,
Я пью за старую любовь
За счастье прежних дней.
Robert Burns is unique for the melody of his verses, for his wisdom and sense of humour. He wrote with great sympathy
about ordinary people and everyday things.
Especially great is his love lyric and poems about his Homeland-Scotland, where he lived all his short life. Everybody knows
that his heart was in the Highlands, his heart is in the Highlands and his heart will be in the Highlands.
My Heart’s in the Highlands.
My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart’s in the Highlands a-chasing the deer;
A chasing the wild deer and following the roe;
My heart’s in the Highlands wherever I go.
Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North,
The birthplace of valour, the country of worth.
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove
The hills of the Highlands forever I love.
Farewell to the mountains high covered with snow,
Farewell to the straths and green valleys bellow;
Farewell to the forests and wild-hanging woods;
Farewell to the torrents and loud pouring floods.
My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart’s in the Highlands a-chasing the deer;
A chasing the wild deer and following the roe;
My heart’s in the Highlands wherever I go.
В горах моё сердце.
В горах моё сердце… Доныне я там.
По следу оленя лечу по скалам.
Гоню я оленя, пугаю козу
В горах моё сердце, а сам я внизу.
Прощай, моя родина! Север, прощай,
Отечество слава и доблести край.
По белому свету судьбою гоним,
Навеки останусь я сыном твоим!
Прощайте, вершины под кровлей снегов,
Прощайте долины и скаты лугов,
Прощайте, поникшие в бездну леса,
Прощайте, потоков лесных голоса..
В горах моё сердце… Доныне я там.
По следу оленя лечу по скалам.
Гоню я оленя, пугаю козу.
В горах моё сердце, а сам я внизу!
Scotland. The city of Ayr. A monument to Burns
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