Robert Burns' Poems: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Elizabeth Hance

Elizabeth has taught elementary and middle school special education, and has a master's degree in reading education.

Robert Burns is a Scottish writer known for his poems and traditional songs. His work is known worldwide, but he is especially beloved in Scotland. We will look at Robert Burns' use of his Scots language, traditional Scottish folk songs, and love of nature and emotion.

Robert Burns' Inspiration

When it comes to poet and lyricist Robert Burns' writings, his life and experiences helped shape what he wrote. He was born in Scotland on Jan. 25, 1759. While growing up on a farm, he still received a strong education, learning not just math and writing, but also some French and biblical literature. His mother was one of the first to share traditional Scottish songs and stories with him.

As the oldest of seven children, he became the head of his family in 1784 when his father passed away, and he did much of his writing while he worked on the farm. His first book of poems was published in 1786. As he spent more time focused on writing, he also traveled around Scotland, where he learned a great deal about its history, songs, and stories.

Portrait of Robert Burns
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Burns' Use of Scots Dialect

When you read a poem by Robert Burns, you will probably notice that it doesn't look or sound quite like English. That's because many of his poems are written in the Scots dialect. A dialect is a form of a language that is connected to a special area (like Scotland) or a group of people. It sounds very similar to English, but you'll notice many differences right away. For example, take a look at the beginning of one of his most famous poems, 'A Red, Red Rose':

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.

You will see that 'love' is spelled 'Luve' and that an apostrophe is used to spell 'played.' Similar dialect can be seen in other well-known poems, like 'A Man's a Man for A' That' and 'To a Mouse.'

Scottish Songs

Many of Robert Burns' most famous poems are really traditional Scottish songs that he wrote down, sometimes changing or adding to them. For example, 'Auld Lang Syne' is a poem written by Burns and set to the music of a traditional Scottish folk song. Now, people know of it as an original Burns composition, and people sing 'Auld Lang Syne' around the world on New Year's Eve. You may recognize the first verse:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

and never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

and auld lang syne?

Robert Burns also wrote a song that Scotland used unofficially as a national anthem for many years, 'Scots Wha Hae.' He wrote it in the form of a speech from a commander to his army. The song is still sung by political groups in Scotland.

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