Scottish poet Robert Burns is born on this day in 1759. The day is still celebrated by Burns fans across the English-speaking world, with high-spirited “Robert Burns Night” feasts, featuring haggis and other Scottish delicacies, as well as enthusiastic drinking, toasting, and speechmaking.
Burns, the son of a poor farmer, received little formal schooling but read extensively. A restless, dissatisfied spirit, he fell in love with a young woman named Jean Armour in the mid-1780s but refused to marry her when she became pregnant. The pair endured a legal struggle, at the end of which the courts declared Burns legally single-but he later married Armour anyway. Eventually, the couple had nine children, the last one born on the day of Burns’ funeral.
Burns published his first poetry collection, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, in 1786, and he quickly became the darling of elite Edinburgh intellectuals.
Perhaps more famous for his lively lyrics in the Scottish dialect than for his longer, more literary poems, Burns is still beloved and celebrated today as the author of the New Year’s anthem, “For Auld Lang Syne.”