Poetry of Robert Burns

Ae fond kiss

Written for Agnes McLehose (Nancy) on her departure for Jamaica in January 1792. Burns’ pen name for Agnes was Clarinda – she sailed from Greenock onboard the Roselle – ironically the ship which should have carried Burns himself five years earlier.

Auld lang syne

A traditional ballad reworked by Burns, the tune had been in print since 1700. Described by the poet as ‘the old song of the olden times, and which has never been in print nor even in manuscript, until I took it down from an old man’s singing’.

Ye banks and braes o’ bonnie Doon

In his letter of 11th March 1791 to Cunningham, Burns wrote “I have this evening sketched out a song….intended to sing to a Strathspey Reel.”

To a mountain daisy

On turning one down with the plough on April 1786, at West Mossgiel farm, Mauchline.

A man’s a man for a’ that

From January 1795. The intense contempt of rank makes this a radical revolutionary song.

The Selkirk Grace

Probably dating from the 17th Century, delivered by Burns in the presence of the Earl of Selkirk, at Kirkudbright.

Scots wha hae

Written after Burns visited the field of battle at Bannockburn, near Stirling on 26th August 1787, where Robert the Bruce won a temporary liberty for Scotland from King Edward II of England.

To a louse

Probably written in late 1785, on seeing a louse on a Lady’s bonnet at Church.

Address to a haggis

The closing stanza was composed extempore during a dinner at the home of John Morrison, a Mauchline cabinet-maker, and completed soon after Burns arrived in Edinburgh.

To a mouse

Written in November 1785, on turning her up in her nest with the plough at West Mossgiel farm, Mauchline.

Death and Doctor Hornbook

Hornbook was a popular term for schoolmasters. Burns was inspired to write this saltire in 1785 after hearing John Wilson, Tarbolton schoolmaster, airing his medical knowledge at a meeting of Tarbolton Masonic Lodge.

My luve is like a red red rose

An old ballad reworked by Burns, first published by Pietro Urbani in April 1794.

Green grow the rashes O’

A reworked version of the ancient ballad ‘Cou thou me the raschyes grene’ first published in 1549.

Rantin, rovin Robin

Possibly written in flippant celebration of Burns’ 28th birthday, ‘Robin’ refers to himself.

Of a’ the airts the wind can blaw

Written ‘out of compliment to Mrs Burns’ during the honeymoon of his marriage to Jean Armour of Mauchline.

Tam O’ Shanter

Composed to accompany an engraving of Alloway Kirk. Loosely based on Douglas Graham of Shanter whose wife Helen was a superstitious shrew. He was prone to drunkenness on market day, and on one such occasion the wags of Ayr clipped his horses tail – a fact he explained away by a story of witches which mollified his incredulous wife.