The truth about Robert Burns: who was Scots, what poems did he write, when was he born – and when did he die?

Famous writer known for iconic poems such as To A Mouse, Address to a Haggis and Tam O’ Shanter.

The end of January is coming Burning the night, an evening designed to celebrate the life and writings of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national patron.

Here’s everything you need to know about the famous poet.

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Who is Robert Burns?

Robert ‘Rabbie’ Burns is a famous Scottish poet, known for writing more than 550 poems and songs during his lifetime.

Burns was born in the village of Alloway, near Ayr, to father William and mother Agnes Brown Burnes on January 25, 1759. He was the eldest of seven children.

The house he was born in was built by his father, and today is preserved as the Crematorium Museum.

The cottage where Burns was born in Alloway was wrapped in a large red bow as part of this year’s event to mark his 256th birthday in 2015 (Image: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

He lived there until the age of 7, when his father sold the house and the whole family moved to Mount Oliphant Farm.

While Burns was a practicing poet throughout his life, he was originally a tenant farmer like his father.

He works at the Mossgiel farm, where his family moved. Just before turning 29, Burns pursued a career change, finding work as a salesman (or gauge) in Dumfries.

The government hired a street vendor to make sure that everyone paid their taxes – especially in regards to alcohol.

Is he married – and has children?

Throughout his life, Burns had many relationships and had children with various women. The poet had 12 children by four different mothers.

His first child, Elizabeth ‘Bess’ Burns, was born in May 1785 to Elizabeth Paton, his mother’s servant.

By the time his first child was born, Burns had begun a relationship with Jean Armor and later that year, Jean became pregnant with his second child. Burns and Jean had a back-and-forth relationship.

It wasn’t until 1788 that the two married, after having their second (and Burns’ third overall) child together. Jean and Burns went on to have nine children together. Out of all the children they had together, only three survived their infancy.

Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759 – 1796) (Image: Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

It is also believed that Jean took care of one of Burns’ illegitimate children following the death of her biological mother, Ann Park.

Jenny Clow, Anges Maclehose’s maid, had one of Burns’ children in 1788, and in 1790 he welcomed another child out of wedlock with a handmaid in Dumfries.

He then went on to fall in love with Mary Campbell – but unlike his other relationships, the two won’t actually have any children together.

At the time of his death, Burns was back with Jean. She gave birth to his last child, Maxwell, the same day he died.

When did he die?

Burns died on July 21, 1796, although the exact circumstances and cause of his death are still to be speculated.

A statue of Scottish poet Robert Burns wears a new hat on July 30, 2012, when an exhibition entitled ‘Hiking’ was unveiled in London, on the anniversary of the London 2012 Olympic Games ( Photo: ANDREW COWIE / AFP / GettyImages)

The most famous theory of his death is that he died of rheumatism, found by the roadside in freezing rain after a heavy drinking session. Burns was known as a heavy drinker, which makes this theory the most popular.

However, Burns had been seriously ill for a long time – at least five years before his death.

What poems are you famous for?

Burns wrote hundreds of poems during his lifetime, many of which would become internationally known.

Auld Lang Syne, perhaps his best known work, is believed to have been adapted by Burns from an old Scottish folk song. It is traditionally sung at midnight at the end of the year, as well as at funerals, graduations, and as a farewell or closing word for other occasions.

His poem Tam O ‘Shanter tells the story of Tam, a farmer who gets drunk with his friends and acts rashly, especially towards his wife.

On his way home one night, Tam finds the local haunted church all lit up, with witches dancing and Devils playing bagpipes. Tam was chased by the devil but eventually escaped.

Tam O’Shanter flees on horseback from ‘hell legions’ (Image: Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

In 1785, Burns wrote To a mouse, according to legend, was inspired when he accidentally destroyed a rat’s nest while plowing a field in the winter.

In the poem, Burns apologizes to the rat, and he reflects on the difficulties the rat will face now that its nest has been destroyed.

A Red, Red Rose was written in 1794, when Burns devoted his time to preserving traditional Scottish songs.

Burns wrote Address with a Haggis to celebrate his appreciation for haggis. During Burns Night’s supper, usually read a Address with a Haggis before opening haggis.

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Huynh Nguyen

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