Great Scot! Seven things everyone should know about Robbie Burns

People all over the world celebrate Robbie Burns Day today. But what is the source of the man’s immortal appeal? According to a BBC documentary, “Robert Burns achieved more with his poetry than any writer since Shakespeare.” In celebration of his 254th birthday, we answer some questions about the freedom-loving Scottish bard (though we’ll always wonder why he gave an ode to a mouse or why he gave an address to a haggis.)

  1. Is Robert Burns the greatest Scot of all time? Yes, according to a 2009 survey of STV viewers. Not bad, considering he was up against the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, J.K. Rowling, Andrew Carnegie, Sir Alexander Fleming, Sir William Wallace, Annie Lennox and Sir Sean Connery.
  2. What language did Burns use? Burns said of English, “I have not that command of the language that I have of my native tongue.” Scots, his native tongue, is not “funny-sounding English;” it is a language that developed alongside and eventually separately from English.
  3. Didn’t he play for the Chicago Blackhawks? Yes, yes he did.
  4. With a name like Burns, was he a destructive force? Well let’s see. A few days after his birth, Jan. 25, 1759, a storm tears apart his home. Next thing you know, the composer Handel dies. A few months later, General Wolfe dies on the Plains of Abraham. Less than 20 years after that, the American Revolution. Then the French are storming the Bastille and heads are rolling. But look what happens when Burns dies in 1796, whaddaya know, suddenly the Americans and the Ottoman Empire are shaking hands over the Treaty of Tripoli, and everybody calms down.
  5. What did he wear under his kilt? Burns was forever kiltless, because during his lifetime it was illegal to wear a kilt! You know Robbie Burns would have supported Idle No More!
  6. What’s taking so long for Gerard Butler to get his Robert Burns movie made? Well, come on; they just made a movie about Robbie Burns in 1930. Isn’t it a bit soon to be making another one?
  7. This guy’s good. Where can I see him in Toronto? There’s a statue of “the Ploughman Poet” on the east side of Allan Gardens. If you see people in kilts reading poetry around that area today, that’s where the statue is.

Evan Andrew Mackay is a Toronto playwright and humorist who writes about culture and social justice. 

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