I think it’s remarkable that Robert Burns was only 37 years old when he died, considering how deeply his works have influenced the English language. He left a large body of poems and songs ( see here: The Robert Burns Encyclopedia ), but, other than “Auld Lang Syne”, few of his works are widely known. Bits and pieces, though, are common in our everyday language. For instance; “The best laid plans of mice and men…” – most folks recognize that, but how many know it was written by Burns in a poem to a mouse?
He was the son of a Scottish farmer at the time farming was just emerging from medievalism in the old world, and it is thought by some that the hard work he did as a child on his father’s farm damaged his heart and led to his early death. He was recognized in his lifetime – 1759 to 1796 – as one of the great poets of his time, and his birthday, January 25th, is still celebrated over the world, and especially in Scotland, as “Burns Day”. He was also… a man of intemperate habits, (I guess that’s the softest way of puting it) leaving behind a string of illegitimate children and a reputation for his love of good food, strong drink and, of course, uninhibited language. It sounds like he packed a lot of living into his 37 years.
We offer four of his poems here. The first two – “A Red, Red Rose” (Benney’s favorite) was written in 1794 and “To a Mouse…” (another favorite) was written in 1785.
The other two poems are included for different reasons. “Auld Lang Syne”, written in 1788, is probably his best known work, though few people actually know the words to the song and fewer still know that Robert Burns wrote it. And “Green Grow the Rashes”, written in 1783, is a song that was popular when American soldiers invaded Mexico. The marching soldiers singing the song inspired the Mexican citizens at the time to describe the soldiers as “green-grows”, or, as we know it now, “gringos”… according to one legend.