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Robert Burns was born on January 24, 1759 in Alloway, Ayrishire in Scotland. His father was a moderately educated farmer who educated his children along with the occasional tutor. As a child, Burns read a lot on his own and among his favorite authors were John Locke and Adam Smith. In 1784 his father died and he and his brother continued to work on the farm.
As Burns grew older, he began to take an interest in the study of local religious phenomena. He admired two men in particular. These men were William McGill and William Dalrymple, two clergymen, who held Arian views. Burns earned the nickname “Rab the Ranter” because he constantly pushed his heretical religious thoughts on the people of Ayrshire. A few years later in 1780 Burns founded a debating society which called the “Tarbolton Bachelor's Club.”
At the age of fifteen Burns wrote his first poem. Robert Burn's main trait throughout his career was his desire to be in love. He wrote many love letters and was a known flirt and exceptional conversationalist. In his home town of Ayrshire, he had been known to be rakish and his religious views only enhanced this illustration of his character. But unfortunately the rakish Robert was never able to move farther past the romantic stages of courtship. He married but then had many affairs as well as a few illegitimate children. He had married Jean Armour but in 1786 the marriage was annulled because of his constant affairs. Burns felt as if he had been abandoned by the then pregnant Jean. He was disciplined not only by Jean's father for his behavior, but also by the local Church of Scotland.
The next year he began a romance through letters with Nancy MacLeHose, a widow. Burns and Nancy engaged in religious discussion often and both shared different views on the subject. Burns and Nancy were constantly conflicted. Burns was caught between his love for the sophisticated Nancy and his longing to be with Jean. He felt bad about the position he put her in and was worried for her wellbeing. Nancy, on the other hand, was caught between her love for Burns and her religion. In the end, Burns went back to Jean, which earned him the blessing of her family and the Church.
Burns was not successful as a farmer and decided that a new beginning was in order. He thought about going to the West Indies to work on a sugar cane plantation but he did not have the money to pay for the trip. He published a collection of poems he had worked on for many years, hoping that he would be able to afford his trip. He called his collection the Kilmarnock edition. The publishing of his work made him famous in Ayrshire. Then a short time after, the book began to circulate as far as England and was highly praised by all. Robert then decided to travel to Edinburgh instead of his previous idea. A majority of the poems that are famous today were found in his first collection, the Kilmarnock edition. Much of his later work was not as strong as his first collection.
In 1787 Burns was employed to collect and arrange old Scottish songs for the Scots Musical Museum. He collected songs on his travels to the Borders and the Highlands. He developed a theory of matching tunes and texts and he wrote and adapted many songs like “My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose” and many others.
In later years, Burns used the money he had made from his second edition of poetry and rented a farm in Dumfriesshire. He earned no profit from the fallow land of the farm. In 1791 he moved to Dumfries and began his work as a tax collector. On July 21, 1796 Robert Burns died of heart failure because of the rheumatic fever he had suffered as a child.
The majority of Burns' poems were written in the Scottish dialect. His poems celebrate and describe traditional Scottish culture, farm life, and religious distinctions of the day. He wrote in many different forms including epistles, ballads, and songs. He known for having written or adapted over three hundred songs about love, friendship, work and alcohol. He is considered the national poet of Scotland.
One of Robert Burns' most famous compositions was My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose. It was based on a Scottish folk song that Burns had heard on his travels.The first three stanzas of this song were in Scots Musical Museum. The song did not truly become famous until Robert Archibald Smith matched it to the tune Low down in the Broom in 1821. This was also published by Pietor Urbani who claimed he had collaborated with Burns. This song is known for its romantic theme where the speaker speaks of a lady he loves beyond measure. His love is expressed through vivid similes and comparisons where he compares his love to a rose and then a melody.
Ae Fond Kiss is another of Robert Burns' well known poems that was eventually turned into a song. This poem was written after his short affair with Nancy MacLeHose in 1791. It was written to her in anguish as she left for the West Indies.