What makes Burns' poems distinctly Scottish? Why is he so important to Scotland, both in a literary and a political sense?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Known as "the voice of Scotland," Robert Burns grew up with a love of Scottish folk songs, legends, and proverbs. Many of his poems are written in English-Scottish and Scottish dialects; he composed lyrics for Scottish songs and based many of them on traditional folk songs. He also wrote in the Makar tradition, the royal court poets of Scotland during the fifteenth and sixteenth century.

Qualities in verse especially prized by many of these writers included the combination of skillful artifice with natural diction, concision and "quickness" of expression. One word that expresses these qualities in combination is the Scots term glegness.

"Glegness" implies mental adroitness, quick-wit, skillful use of language, and keen is perception. Thus, Burns's style of writing is "gleg" as it is marked by much spontaneity, wit, and skill. Some of his poems express his love for Scotland, too. For instance, "My Heart's in the Highlands" is a sentimental lyric, much like a ballad, whose emotive words touch many a Scotsman:

My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart's in the Highlands a-chasing the deer,
A-chasing the wild deer and following the roe--
My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go!

Many of the poems of Robert Burns contain political themes, as well, such as Scottish identity, Republicanism [he sympathized with the French Revolutionaries], and Radicalism, which is expressed in the song "Scots Wha Hae." Written in 1793 as a speech delivered by Robert the Bruce prior to the Battle of Bannockburnin in 1314, maintaining Scotland's sovereignty from England, Burns's lyrics are set to the traditional Scottish tune "Hey Tuttie Tatie"; a tune played by Bruce's army when they entered the Battle of Bannockburn. "Scots Wha Hae" was long the national anthem of Scotland, but has been replaced in modern times.

There is no question that Robert Burns is loved by the Scots, for he is their history: his words are in their hearts, on their lips in song and in speech and in battle cry. Written on many a page and monument, the words of Robbie Burns are immortalized in their beloved Scottish dialects.

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