He was a terrible farmer, a poor office clerk, but some say he is the world’s best poet, and a man who has us all talking in a Scottish brogue…
But why is he so famous? Why is he so much a part of who we are? Burns’ rise to fame began in 1786 when, at the age of 27, his first work was published, entitled Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect.
His motivation for publishing was initially financial, but his ego played a role. He relished the thought of seeing his poems in print. He had been courting a girl, Jean Armour. But the courtship was not approved by all – not by her family, not by the community. Burns had decided to leave for Jamaica, and the publication of his work was to pay for his trip.
But events changed. 612 copies had been printed in plain blue wrappers. The reaction was staggering. No one could believe that such a pathetic farmer could write in such a lyrical and captivating way.
He played the role – dressing smartly, with an air of confidence, often considered abrupt and rude. Burns took Edinburgh – and eventually the world – by storm. Why? Because his work is the continuing story of the ordinary man.
With quality and conviction, beautiful words and melodies he told the stories of – not just his life and times – but those of all of us: nature, beauty, culture and politics. He wrote in a way that still rings true, to which we can still relate:
The haunt o’ Spring’s the primrose-brae,Robert Burns
The Summer joys the flocks to follow;
How cheery thro’ her short’ning day,
Is Autumn in her weeds o’ yellow;
But can they melt the glowing heart,
Or chain the soul in speechless pleasure?
Or thro’ each nerve the rapture dart,
Like meeting her, our bosom’s treasure?
It has been said that “When Scotland forgets Burns, history will forget Scotland”.
Words spoken by then Lt.-Gov. of New Brunswick Graydon Nicholas at the unveiling of a refurbished statue of Robert Burns in Fredericton, September 2011.