In Focus

Robert Burns: his best-known poems

Famous works include Auld Lang Syne, Tam O’Shanter and Address to a Haggis

Robert Burns (aka Robbie Burns, aka Rabbie Burns, aka Scotland’s Favourite Son) was a Scottish writer and lyricist. 

By far the best-known Burns composition is the traditional New Year’s Eve anthem Auld Lang Syne. Other famous works include the epic poem Tam O’Shanter and the romantic A Red, Red Rose

Here we take a look at Robert Burns’s best-known poems.

Address to a Haggis, 1786

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,Great chieftain o' the pudding-race! Aboon them a' ye tak your place, Painch, tripe, or thairm: Weel are ye wordy o'a grace As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill, Your hurdies like a distant hill, Your pin wad help to mend a mill In time o'need, While thro' your pores the dews distil Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight, An' cut you up wi' ready sleight, Trenching your gushing entrails bright, Like ony ditch; And then, O what a glorious sight, Warm-reekin', rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an' strive: Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive, Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve Are bent like drums; Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive, Bethankit! hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout Or olio that wad staw a sow, Or fricassee wad make her spew Wi' perfect sconner, Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash, As feckless as wither'd rash, His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash; His nieve a nit; Thro' bloody flood or field to dash, O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed, The trembling earth resounds his tread. Clap in his walie nieve a blade, He'll mak it whissle; An' legs an' arms, an' heads will sned, Like taps o' thrissle.

Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care, And dish them out their bill o' fare, Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware That jaups in luggies; But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer Gie her a haggis!

My Heart’s In The Highlands, 1789

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North, The birth-place of Valour, the country of Worth; Wherever I wander, wherever I rove, The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.

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 mountains high covered with snow; Farewell to the straths and green valleys below; 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.

A Red, Red Rose, 1794

O my Luve's like a red, red rose, That's newly sprung in June: O my Luve's like the melodie, That's sweetly play'd in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonie lass, So deep in luve am I; And I will luve thee still, my dear, Till a' the seas gang dry.

Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear, And the rocks melt wi' the sun; And I will luve thee still, my dear, While the sands o' life shall run.

And fare-thee-weel, my only Luve! And fare-thee-weel, a while! And I will come again, my Luve, Tho' 'twere ten thousand mile!

To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough, 1785

Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie, O, what a panic's in thy breastie! Thou need na start awa sae hasty, Wi' bickering brattle! I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee, Wi' murd'ring pattle!

I'm truly sorry man's dominion, Has broken nature's social union, An' justifies that ill opinion, Which makes thee startle At me, thy poor, earth-born companion, An' fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve; What then? poor beastie, thou maun live! A daimen icker in a thrave 'S a sma' request; I'll get a blessin wi' the lave, An' never miss't!

Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin! It's silly wa's the win's are strewin! An' naething, now, to big a new ane, O' foggage green! An' bleak December's winds ensuin, Baith snell an' keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an' waste, An' weary winter comin fast, An' cozie here, beneath the blast, Thou thought to dwell-Till crash! the cruel coulter past Out thro' thy cell.

That wee bit heap o' leaves an' stibble, Has cost thee mony a weary nibble! Now thou's turn'd out, for a' thy trouble, But house or hald, To thole the winter's sleety dribble, An' cranreuch cauld!

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane, In proving foresight may be vain; The best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men Gang aft agley, An'lea'e us nought but grief an' pain, For promis'd joy!

Still thou art blest, compar'd wi' me The present only toucheth thee: But, Och! I backward cast my e'e. On prospects drear! An' forward, tho' I canna see, I guess an' fear!

Auld Lang Syne, 1788

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And auld lang syne!

For auld lang syne, my jo, For auld lang syne, We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet, For auld lang syne.

And surely ye'll be your pint stowp! And surely I'll be mine! And we'll take a cup o' kindness yet, For auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes, And pou'd the gowan fine; But we've wander'd mony a weary fitt, Sin' auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl'd in the burn, Frae morning sun till dine; But seas between us braid hae roar'd Sin' auld lang syne.

And there's a hand, my trusty fiere! And gie's a hand o' thine! And we'll tak a right gude-willie-waught, For auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo, For auld lang syne, We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet, For auld lang syne.

Had I a Cave, 1793

Had I a cave on some wild distant shore, Where the winds howl to the wave's dashing roar: There would I weep my woes, There seek my lost repose, Till grief my eyes should close, Ne'er to wake more!

Falsest of womankind, can'st thou declare All thy fond, plighted vows fleeting as air! To thy new lover hie, Laugh o'er thy perjury; Then in thy bosom try What peace is there!

The Winter of Life, 1794

But lately seen in gladsome green, The woods rejoic'd the day, Thro' gentle showers, the laughing flowers In double pride were gay: But now our joys are fled On winter blasts awa; Yet maiden May, in rich array, Again shall bring them a'.

But my white pow, nae kindly thowe Shall melt the snaws of Age; My trunk of eild, but buss or beild, Sinks in Time's wintry rage. Oh, Age has weary days, And nights o' sleepless pain: Thou golden time, o' Youthfu' prime, Why comes thou not again!

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