Brother Robert Burns

Brother Robert Burns



Poet Laureate, Activist, Freemason

Robert Burns, celebrated Scottish poet, is considered a seminal figure in 18th century literature. Born in Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland on January 25, 1759. Robert was born the eldest of seven children born to William and Agnes Burns. Robert’s father as a tenant farmer struggled to support his family. Because of this, Burns had to work on the family farm from a young age. However, at the age of fifteen, while working the harvest season with his field partner, Helen Kilpatrick, Burns felt his first love which sparked his passion for love and poetry, and he soon wrote his first poem; “Handsome Nell”. 

(Portrait of Robert Burns, January 25, 1759 — July 21, 1796)

Bruns began to pursue poetry (and Love) with fervency and zeal. The traditional folk songs and ballads of Scotland, as well as the works of contemporary poets such as Allan Ramsay and Robert Fergusson heavily influenced his early poems. His early works focused on nature’s beauty, the simplicity of rural life, and the struggles of the working class.

In 1777, at the age of eighteen, Burns left the family farm to find work and support his family. He worked as a flax-dresser, ploughman and tutor, but continued to write poetry in his free time. At the age of twenty-one, in 1781, Brother Burns joined the Lodge of St. David, Tarbolton, Scotland, a significant step as Freemasonry was an influential and respected organization in 18th century Scotland. The Fraternity provided Brother Burns with a sense of belonging, camaraderie, and an opportunity for self-improvement and personal growth. This likely led to the publication of his first collection of poetry, “Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect,” in 1786 which was well-received by critics and the public and established our Brother as a significant literary figure in Scotland.

Robert Burns is famous for writing poetry to charm and impress women. However, he had a special interest in Jean Armour and courted her for several years before they married on July 4, 1788. Together they had twelve children. Even with his marriage, Burns continued to have extramarital affairs which resulted in more children with other women. Jean, the daughter of a local operative stonemason, remained devoted to Burns throughout their marriage.

In 1788, Burns began to collaborate with James Johnson in compiling an anthology titled “The Scots Musical Museum”. During the last decade of his life, Burns devoted himself to editing and revising traditional folk songs for this volume and for the “Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs.” These publications played a crucial role in preserving elements of Scotland’s cultural heritage, featuring renowned songs such as “My Luve is Like a Red Red Rose” and “Auld Land Syne.”

As a poet, Brother Burns possessed exceptional oratory skills and his speeches at Masonic gatherings were highly esteemed. Because of this he earned the title of Lodge’s Poet Laureate. His participation in Freemasonry had a notable impact on his literary works. Many of his poems and songs were written for Masonic events and ceremonies and contain references to Masonic symbols and themes. One of his most famous poems, “A Man’s a Man for A’ That,” is a tribute to the fraternity’s ideals of Brotherhood and equality. Additionally, his poem “The Brotherly Ties of Friendship” is a clear allusion to the principles of Freemasonry. Freemasonry’s emphasis on equality greatly influenced Brother Burns’ beliefs and poetry. As a vocal advocate for the rights of the working class, many of his poems and songs reflect his belief in the importance of equality among all individuals.

Unfortunately, Brother Burns’ later years were plagued by personal and professional difficulties. His extramarital affairs and financial struggles caused tension in his marriage and damaged his reputation. He also faced challenges in gaining recognition and respect from his peers. His health started declining rapidly, suffering from various illnesses such as rheumatism and heart disease. These difficulties ultimately led to his untimely death at the age of 37 on July 21, 1796, the same day his wife gave birth to their twelfth child, Maxwell.

Brother Burns’ literary legacy endures despite the hardships and struggles he faced throughout his life. His poems and songs remain celebrated and revered, serving as a testament to his skill as a poet and his dedication to the ideals of Freemasonry earning him the title of National Bard of Scotland.

Written by WB Todd M. Paterek
Blazing Star Lodge #694 F&AM