Robert Burns

Scottish poet and lyricist

Robert Burns (25 January 175921 July 1796) was a poet and pioneer of the Romantic movement and after his death became an important source of inspiration to the founders of both liberalism and socialism. He is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland.

O, wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion.


The best laid schemes o' mice and men
Gang aft a-gley;
And leave us naught but grief and pain
For promised joy.
The social, friendly, honest man,
Whate'er he be,
'Tis he fulfills great Nature's plan,
And none but he!
  • Beauty's of a fading nature
    Has a season and is gone!
    • Will Ye Go and Marry Katie? (1764)
  • Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie,
    O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
    Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
    Wi' bickering brattle!
  • I'm truly sorry man's dominion
    Has broken Nature's social union.
    • To a Mouse, st. 2 (1785)
  • The best laid schemes o' mice and men
    Gang aft a-gley
    And leave us naught but grief and pain
    For promised joy.
    • To a Mouse, st. 7 (1785)
  • Nature's law,
    That man was made to mourn.
    • Man Was Made to Mourn, st. 4 (1786)
  • Man's inhumanity to man
    Makes countless thousands mourn.
    Man was made to Mourn.
    • Man was Made to Mourn (1786)
  • Gie me ae spark o' Nature's fire,
    That's a' the learning I desire.
    • First Epistle to J. Lapraik, st. 13 (1786)
  • The social, friendly, honest man,
    Whate'er he be,
    'Tis he fulfills great Nature's plan,
    And none but he!
    • Second Epistle to J. Lapraik, st. 15 (1786)
  • On ev'ry hand it will allowed be,
    He's just—nae better than he should be.
    • A Dedication to Gavin Hamilton (1786)
  • It's hardly in a body's pow'r,
    To keep, at times, frae being sour.
    • Epistle to Davie, st. 2 (1786)
  • Misled by fancy's meteor ray,
    By passion driven;
    But yet the light that led astray
    Was light from heaven.
    • The Vision, II, st. 18 (1786)
  • His lockèd, lettered, braw brass collar
    Showed him the gentleman an' scholar.
    • The Twa Dogs, st. 3 (1786)
  • An' there began a lang digression
    About the lords o' the creation.
    • The Twa Dogs, st. 6 (1786)
  • O, wad some Power the giftie gie us
    To see oursels as others see us!
    It wad frae monie a blunder free us
    An' foolish notion.
    What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us
    An' ev'n Devotion
  • Wee, modest, crimson-tippèd flow'r,
    Thou's met me in an evil hour;
    For I maun crush amang the stoure
    Thy slender stem:
    To spare thee now is past my pow'r,
    Thou bonie gem.
    • To a Mountain Daisy, st. 1 (1786)
  • Stern Ruin's plowshare drives elate,
    Full on thy bloom.
    • To a Mountain Daisy, st. 9 (1786)
  • There's nought but care on ev'ry han',
    In every hour that passes, O:
    What signifies the life o' man,
    An 'twerna for the lasses, O.
    • Green Grow the Rashes, O, st. 1 (1787)
  • Auld Nature swears, the lovely dears
    Her noblest work she classes, O:
    Her prentice han' she tried on man,
    An' then she made the lasses, O.
    • Green Grow the Rashes, O, st. 5 (1787)
  • Green grow the rashes, O;
    Green grow the rashes, O;
    The sweetest hours that e'er I spend
    Are spent among the lasses, O.
    • Green Grow the Rashes, O, chorus (1787)
  • Some books are lies frae end to end.
    • Death and Dr. Hornbook, st. 1 (1787)
  • I was na fou, but just had plenty.
    • Death and Dr. Hornbook, st. 3 (1787)
  • John Barleycorn got up again,
    And sore surprised them all.
    • John Barleycorn, st. 3 (1787)
  • The heart benevolent and kind
    The most resembles God.
    • A Winter Night (1787)
  • Ye're aiblins nae temptation.
    • Address to the Unco Guid, st. 6 (1787)
  • Then gently scan your brother man,
    Still gentler sister woman;
    Tho' they may gang a kennin wrang,
    To step aside is human.
    • Address to the Unco Guid, st. 7 (1787)
  • If naebody care for me,
    I'll care for naebody.
    • I Hae a Wife o' my Ain (1788)
  • Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
    And never brought to min'?
    Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
    And days o' auld lang syne?
  • For auld lang syne, my dear,
    For auld lang syne,
    We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet
    For auld lang syne!
    • Auld Lang Syne, chorus (1788)
  • Flow gently, sweet Afton! amang thy green braes,
    Flow gently, I'll sing thee a song in thy praise.
    My Mary's asleep by thy murmuring stream,
    Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.
    • Sweet Afton, st. 1 (1789)
  • This day, Time winds th' exhausted chain,
    To run the twelvemonth's length again.
    • New Year's Day, st. 1 (1790)
  • The voice of Nature loudly cries,
    And many a message from the skies,
    That something in us never dies.
    • New Year's Day, st. 3 (1790)
  • When Nature her great masterpiece designed,
    And framed her last, best work, the human mind,
    Her eye intent on all the wondrous plan,
    She formed of various stuff the various Man.
    • To Robert Graham, st. 1 (1791)
  • Suspense is worse than disappointment.
    • Letter to Thomas Sloan, (1 September 1791)
  • While Europe's eye is fix'd on mighty things,
    The fate of empires and the fall of kings;
    While quacks of State must each produce his plan,
    And even children lisp the Rights of Man;
    Amid this mighty fuss just let me mention,
    The Rights of Woman merit some attention.
    • The Rights of Woman, st. 1 (1792)
  • She is a winsome wee thing,
    She is a handsome wee thing,
    She is a lo'esome wee thing,
    This sweet wee wife o' mine.
    • My Wife's a Winsome Wee Thing, chorus (1792)
  • The golden Hours on angel wings
    Flew o'er me and my Dearie;
    For dear to me as light and life
    Was my sweet Highland Mary.
    • Highland Mary, st. 2 (1792)
  • But, oh! fell death's untimely frost,
    That nipt my flower sae early.
    • Highland Mary, st. 3 (1792)
  • O whistle, and I'll come to you, my lad:
    Tho' father and mither and a' should gae mad.
    • Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad, chorus (1793)
  • If there's a hole in a' your coats,
    I rede you tent it;
    A chield's aman you takin' notes,
    And faith he'll prent it.
    • On the Late Captain Grose's Peregrinations Thro' Scotland, st. 1 (1793)
  • Some hae meat and canna eat,
    And some wad eat that want it;
    But we hae meat, and we can eat,
    And sae the Lord be thankit.
    • The Selkirk Grace (1793)
  • O Mary, at thy window be!
    It is the wished, the trysted hour.
    • Mary Morison, st. 1 (1793)
  • Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled,
    Scots, wham Bruce has aften led,
    Welcome to your gory bed
    Or to Victorie!

    Now's the day, and now's the hour;
    See the front o' battle lour!
    See approach proud Edward's power—
    Chains and slaverie!
    • Scots Wha Hae, st. 1, 2 (1794)
  • Lay the proud usurpers low!
    Tyrants fall in every foe!
    Liberty's in every blow—
    Let us do or die!
    • Scots Wha Hae, st. 5 (1794)
  • The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
    The man's the gowd for a' that.
    For a' that an a' that.
    • A Man's A Man For A' That, st. 1 (1795)
  • Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord,
    Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that;
    Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
    He's but a coof for a' that:
    For a' that, an' a' that,
    His ribband, star, an' a' that:
    The man o' independent mind
    He looks an' laughs at a' that.

    A prince can mak a belted knight,
    A marquis, duke, an' a' that;
    But an honest man's abon his might,
    Gude faith, he maunna fa' that!
    For a' that, an' a' that,
    Their dignities an' a' that;
    The pith o' sense, an' pride o' worth,
    Are higher rank than a' that.

    Then let us pray that come it may,
    (As come it will for a' that,)
    That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
    Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
    For a' that, an' a' that,
    It's coming yet for a' that,
    That Man to Man, the world o'er,
    Shall brothers be for a' that.

    • A Man's A Man For A' That, st. 3-5 (1795)
  • Drumossie moor — Drumossie day —
    A waefu' day it was to me!
    For there I lost my father dear,
    My father dear, and brethren three.
    • Lament for Culloden

The Cotter's Saturday Night (1786)Edit

  • Gars auld claes look amaist as weel's the new.
    • Stanza 5
  • Beneath the milk-white thorn that scents the evening gale.
    • Stanza 9
  • He wales a portion with judicious care;
    And "Let us worship God" he says, with solemn air.
    • Stanza 12
  • Perhaps Dundee's wild-warbling measures rise,
    Or plaintive Martyrs, worthy of the name.
    • Stanza 13
  • From scenes like these, old Scotia's grandeur springs,
    That makes her loved at home, revered abroad:
    Princes and lords are but the breath of kings,
    "An honest man's the noblest work of God."
    • Stanza 19

Epistle to a Young Friend (1786)Edit

  • Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
    Perhaps turn out a sermon.
    • Stanza 1
  • I waive the quantum o' the sin,
    The hazard of concealing:
    But, och! it hardens a' within,
    And petrifies the feeling!
    • Stanza 6
  • The fear o' hell 's a hangman's whip
    To haud the wretch in order;
    But where ye feel your honour grip,
    Let that aye be your border.
    • Stanza 8
  • An atheist-laugh's a poor exchange
    For Deity offended.
    • Stanza 9
  • And may you better reck the rede,
    Than ever did the adviser!
    • Stanza 11

Johnson's The Scots Musical Museum (1787-1796)Edit

  • A gaudy dress and gentle air
    May slightly touch the heart;
    But it's innocence and modesty
    that polished the dart.
    • Handsome Nell (1773) (also known as "My Handsome Nell"), st. 6
  • Oh, my Luve is like a red, red rose,
    That's newly sprung in June.
    O, my Luve is like the melodie,
    That's sweetly played in tune.
  • Contented wi' little and cantie wi' mair.
    • Contented wi' Little, st. 1
  • Ye banks and braes o' bonny Doon,
    How can ye bloom sae fresh and fair?
    How can ye chant, ye little birds,
    And I sae weary fu' o' care!
    Thou'll break my heart, thou warbling bird,
    That wantons thro' the flowering thorn!
    Thou minds me o' departed joys,
    Departed never to return.
    • The Banks o' Doon, st. 1
  • Chords that vibrate sweetest pleasure
    Thrill the deepest notes of woe.
    • Sensibility How Charming, st. 4
  • Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;
    Ae farewell, alas, forever!
    • Ae Fond Kiss, And Then We Sever, st. 1
  • But to see her was to love her;
    Love but her, and love for ever.
    Had we never lov'd sae kindly,
    Had we never lov'd sae blindly,
    Never met—or never parted,
    We had ne'er been broken-hearted.
    • Ae Fond Kiss, And Then We Sever, st. 2
  • It was a' for our rightfu' King
    We left fair Scotland's strand.
    • It Was A' for Our Rightfu' King, st. 1
  • Now a' is done that men can do,
    And a' is done in vain.
    • It Was A' for Our Rightfu' King, st. 2
  • He turn'd him right and round about
    Upon the Irish shore;
    And gae his bridle reins a shake,
    With adieu forevermore,
    My dear—
    And adieu forevermore!
    • It Was A' for Our Rightfu' King, st. 3
  • John Anderson, my jo, John,
    When we were first acquent,
    Your locks were like the raven,
    Your bonie brow was brent;
    But now your brow is beld, John,
    Your locks are like the snaw,
    But blessings on your frosty pow,
    John Anderson, my jo!
    • John Anderson, My Jo, st. 1
  • 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.
    • My Heart's in the Highlands, st. 1

Tam o' Shanter (1790)Edit

  • Where sits our sulky, sullen dame,
    Gathering her brows like gathering storm,
    Nursing her wrath to keep it warm.
    • Line 10
  • Ah, gentle dames! it gars me greet
    To think how monie counsels sweet,
    How monie lengthened, sage advices,
    The husband frae the wife despises!
    • Line 33
  • The landlady and Tam grew gracious
    Wi' favours secret, sweet, and precious.
    • Line 47
  • The landlord's laugh was ready chorus.
    • Line 50
  • His ancient, trusty, drouthy crony:
    Tam lo'ed him like a vera brither—
    They had been fou for weeks thegither.
    • Line 43
  • Kings may be blest, but Tam was glorious,
    O'er a' the ills o' life victorious.
    • Line 57
  • But pleasures are like poppies spread—
    You seize the flow'r, its bloom is shed;
    Or like the snow falls in the river—
    A moment white—then melts forever.
    • Line 59
  • Nae man can tether time or tide.
    • Line 67
  • That hour, o' night's black arch the keystane.
    • Line 69
  • Inspiring bold John Barleycorn!
    What dangers thou canst make us scorn!
    Wi' tippenny, we fear nae evil;
    Wi' usquabae, we'll face the devil!
    • Line 105
  • As Tammie glow'red, amazed, and curious,
    The mirth and fun grew fast and furious.
    • Line 143
  • Her cutty sark, o' Paisley harn,
    That while a lassie she had worn,
    In longitude tho' sorely scanty,
    It was her best, and she was vauntie.
    • Line 171
  • "Weel done, Cutty Sark!"
    • Line 189
  • Ah, Tam! Ah! Tam! Thou'll get thy fairin!
    In hell they'll roast you like a herrin!
    • Line 201

Posthumous Pieces (1799)Edit

  • For a' that, and a' that
    An' twice as muckle 's a' that,
    I've lost but ane, I've twa behin',
    I've wife eneugh for a' that.
    • The Jolly Beggars, chorus
  • God knows, I'm no the thing I should be,
    Nor am I even the thing I could be.
    • To The Reverend John M'Math, st. 8
  • If there's another world, he lives in bliss;
    If there is none, he made the best of this.
    • Epitaph on William Muir
  • In durance vile here must I wake and weep,
    And all my frowsy couch in sorrow steep.
    • Epistle from Esopus to Maria
  • It's guid to be merry and wise,
    It's guid to be honest and true,
    It's guid to support Caledonia's cause
    And bide by the buff and the blue.
    • Here's a Health to Them That's Awa', st. 1

Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919)Edit

Quotes reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • Some wee short hours ayont the twal.
    • Death and Dr. Hornbook
  • When chill November's surly blast
    Made fields and forests bare.
    • Man was made to Mourn
  • O Life! how pleasant is thy morning,
    Young Fancy's rays the hills adorning!
    Cold-pausing Caution's lesson scorning,
    We frisk away,
    Like schoolboys at th' expected warning,
    To joy and play.
    • Epistle to James Smith
  • And like a passing thought, she fled
    In light away.
    • The Vision
  • Affliction's sons are brothers in distress;
    A brother to relieve,—how exquisite the bliss!
    • A Winter Night
  • What 's done we partly may compute,
    But know not what 's resisted.
    • Address to the Unco Guid
  • O life! thou art a galling load,
    Along a rough, a weary road,
    To wretches such as I!
    • Despondency
  • We twa hae run about the braes,
    And pu'd the gowans fine.
    • Auld Lang Syne
  • Dweller in yon dungeon dark,
    Hangman of creation, mark!
    Who in widow weeds appears,
    Laden with unhonoured years,
    Noosing with care a bursting purse,
    Baited with many a deadly curse?
    • Ode on Mrs. Oswald
  • To make a happy fireside clime
    To weans and wife,—
    That is the true pathos and sublime
    Of human life.
    • Epistle to Dr. Blacklock
  • To see her is to love her,
    And love but her forever;
    For Nature made her what she is,
    And never made anither!
    • Bonny Lesley
  • 'T is sweeter for thee despairing
    Than aught in the world beside,—Jessy!
    • Jessy


  • There is no such uncertainty as a sure thing.
    • Reported as attributed to Burns but unverified in Suzy Platt (ed.), Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations Requested from the Congressional Research Service (Washington, DC : Library of Congress 1989)[2]


  • The white moon is setting behind the white wave,
    And Time is setting with me, O!
The wan Moon is setting beyond the white wave,
And Time is setting with me, oh!

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