Was he nae poet? Robert burns


FROM ” Epistles to J . Lapraik”

Lapraik was a minor Scottish songwriter and poet but he was a lover of Scottish songs and poems and hence a man after Burns’ heart. Here Burns describes his method at producing poetry straight from the heart. Burns shows great sincerity, honesty, modesty and courage. Burns had earlier made an apology in the Preface to the Kilmarnock Edition at his lack of Latin and Greek. Burns also had very little knowledge of French or Gaelic (but certainly more than many as proved by his French quotations and Gaelic names and titles). Burns states his natural response to the world might have more poetic relevance than the (by then) almost hackneyed references to classical allusions. Burns humorously compares his poetic talents to those of university educated scholars whom he says in brilliant imagery go in as “stirks” (Bullocks) and come out as asses! How amusing, now to think people thought Burns semi-literate and unable to distinguish between the genres of poetry or prose (he as a master of both). These epistles are rich in the “lallans” (lowland) vocabulary of the Scots. Only Shakespeare, I believe, had contributed as many unique phrases and vocabulary to English and Burns essentially translated an entire Scots tradition in English with his own unique combination of rich Scots expressions and English. He valued the harmonic poetic and music treasures of the Scots thus preserving forever ,as a kind of causeway, English literature and ancient Scots literature making them one tradition.


I am nae poet, in a sense; 
But just a rhymer like by chance, 
An’ hae to learning nae pretence; 
Yet, what the matter? 
Whene’er my muse does on me glance, 
I jingle at her. 

Your critic-folk may cock their nose, 
And say, “How can you e’er propose, 
You wha ken hardly verse frae prose, 
To mak a sang?” 
But, by your leaves, my learned foes, 
Ye’re maybe wrang. 

What’s a’ your jargon o’ your schools- 
Your Latin names for horns an’ stools? 
If honest Nature made you fools, 
What sairs your grammars? 
Ye’d better taen up spades and shools,  (taken up spades and shovels)
Or knappin-hammers.  (stone-breaking hammers)

set o’ dull, conceited hashes 
Confuse their brains in college classes! 
They gang in stirks, and come out asses,  (the go in bullocks…)
Plain truth to speak; 
An’ syne they think to climb Parnassus  (since)
By dint o’ Greek! 

Gie me ae spark o’ nature’s fire, 
That’s a’ the learning I desire; 
Then tho’ I drudge thro’ dub an’ mire  (puddles and mud)
At pleugh or cart,  (plough/plow)
My muse, tho’ hamely in attire, 
May touch the heart. 

Burns who “jingled” at his Muse later (Second Epistle To J. Lapraik) has the Muse assume the form of a worn-out servant girl.

The tapetless, ramfeezl’d hizzie,  (Heedless, wornout hussy or wench)
She’s saft at best an’ something lazy:  (Soft)
Quo’ she, “Ye ken we’ve been sae busy 
This month an’ mair, 
That trowth, my head is grown right dizzie, 
An’ something sair.” 


Nature, according to Burns places little value on material wealth. Amusingly he says the rich will return as savage, hungry wolves and the poor as gentle souls united by love and friendship. Clearly the meek shall inherit the earth.


O mandate glorious and divine! 
The ragged followers o’ the Nine, 
Poor, thoughtless devils! yet may shine 
In glorious light, 
While sordid sons o’ Mammon’s line 
Are dark as night! 

Robert Burns, Scotland’s Bard and a very special poet worthy of study and admiration by the world. He may have been Britain’s greatest songwriter.