The Ploughman Poet: Robert Burns

Raise a toast to Scotland’s favourite son this Burns Night (25 January)

Robert Burns was born into a farming family at Alloway in Ayrshire in 1759 and died in Dumfries at the early age of 37. Yet in that short time his lifestyle of wine, women and song made him famous, becoming the emblematic figure of Scottish cultural history.

Left: Robert Burns, after a 19th century print by Scottish School Right: Betrothal of Robert Burns and Highland Mary, 1785, illustration from 'Hutchinson's Story of the British Nation', c.1923
Left: Robert Burns, after a 19th century print by Scottish School
Right: Betrothal of Robert Burns and Highland Mary, 1785, illustration from ‘Hutchinson’s Story of the British Nation’, c.1923

On the anniversary of his birth, Scots both at home and abroad celebrate Robert Burns with a supper, where they address the haggis, the ladies and whisky. A celebration which would undoubtedly make him proud.

Scottish piper introduces the haggis to a Caledonian Banquet, London (sepia photo)
Scottish piper introduces the haggis to a Caledonian Banquet, London (sepia photo)

Tam o’Shanter. A tale told in pictures.

Tam o’Shanter is an old Scottish legend that was later turned into a narrative poem by Robert Burns to accompany Captain Grose’s description of Alloway Kirk in his collection ‘Antiquities of Scotland’.  The themes and imagery revolve around the folk-lore of witchcraft.

Alexander Goudie is a Scottish artist who brings the haunted tale to life with his cycle of paintings which now reside in Rozelle House in Ayrshire.

The chase, c.1995 (oil on board) by Alexander Goudie, Private Collection
The chase, c.1995 (oil on board) by Alexander Goudie, Private Collection

‘Warlocks and witches in a dance;
Nae cotillion brent new frae France,
But hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels,
Put life and mettle in their heels.
A winnock-bunker in the east,
There sat auld Nick, in shape o’ beast;
A towzie tyke, black, grim and large,
To gie them music was his charge:
He screw’d the pipes and gart them skirl,
Till roof and rafters a’ did dirl.’


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All images featured are from the Bridgeman archive. Contact our sales team on uksales@bridgemanimages.com for licensing images and copyright enquiries.

Read the complete works of Robert Burns 

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